Dead Horses, one of four scheduled performers, delivers a melody in front of a large crowd during the ninth annual Labor of Love Music Festival on Sunday, Sept. 2.

Bluegrass music festival raises mental health awareness

By Jason Arndt

Before thunderstorms rolled in on Sept. 2, thousands of bluegrass fans and Just Live, Inc. supporters came together for the ninth annual Labor of Love Music Festival at in New Munster, where organizers collected funds for established mental health programs.

The event, held since 2010, was presented by nonprofit organization Just Live, Inc., which looks to save the lives of people on the brink of suicide.

The nonprofit organization, consisting of volunteers, started in 2009 after the death of Jamie Leigh Wilson, who unfortunately took her own life.

Just Live Inc., which looks to raise awareness by offering resources to those suffering the same pain, has raised more than $700,000 since its inception.

Organization board member Janet Geller-Lesko said at least $50,000 was raised by the middle of Sunday’s music festival, and could reach $80,000.

“People were incredibly supportive,” she said. “They understood what we were raising money for.”

Bob Riley, Jamie’s grandfather, pitched in proceeds from his book titled “A Wild Ride.”

After the festival, Riley said book sales eclipsed 250, with about 275 sold.

At $20 per book, Riley hopes to sell 1,000, which will give Just Live, Inc. another $20,000.

Riley’s book chronicles his family life, which includes wife, Susan, along with community philanthropy efforts, meeting new people and travels across the country.

The board of directors, according to Geller-Lesko, will decide where to distribute the funds in October.

In previous years, the nonprofit organization has made contributions to Hopeline, a text messaging helping, Marquette University, where scientists have used the funds to research the cause of mental illness.

Additionally, Catholic Charities, which has mental health programs, has also been a beneficiary, among other established programs.

As for the weather, which brought in torrential rain and gusty winds, Geller-Lesko said it did not deter bluegrass fans and supporters from attending.

“People were watching the weather carefully and they knew the storms would come in after the festival was over,” she said. “I think we saw equally as many people this year as we did last year.”

Joanne Ross, who has attended every Labor of Love Music Festival, said it was imperative to support the Wilson family and show up, regardless of weather.

Ross, Wilson’s confirmation teacher at St. Alphonsus, remembers Jamie Leigh Wilson as a caring and loving person.

“For all they have done for us, they are always giving. We just wanted to come together,” said Ross. “She was a quiet, lovely girl, I always remember her bright smile and she was very respectful of others.”

While Wilson was involved in church, she also enjoyed outdoor activities, like fishing, hunting, water skiing.

She was able to foster her love for the outdoors through the Wheatland Willing Workers 4-H Club.

Ross, who acknowledged the Wilsons underwent challenging times, hopes the event encourages others to speak up and seek help.

“It is important to talk about things,” she said.

As for the event, Dead Horses, Split Lip Rayfield and Charlie Parr returned for another year, joining festival newcomer Useful Jenkins.

Another new facet, which saw positive feedback, was a makeshift fishing pond.

“People had a lot fun with it and once we opened it up to adults, they had equally as much fun,” Geller-Lesko said.


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