February 16, 2024

Since 1969, the Chamber has honored someone from the community that has served unselfishly to help Hannibal move forward and to progress.  These people have been great givers of their time and talents and have been an inspirational example for future civic endeavors.  The following is the script used to surprise Michael Gaines on his selection as the Hannibal

Photo of Michael Gaines

Michael Gaines, Hannibal’s 2024 Pacesetter

Chamber’s 2024 Pacesetter, our version of the Hall of Fame:

“Like many in attendance at our Annual Meeting, this year’s Pacesetter grew up on a farm, outside a small Missouri town, then went to attend and graduate from the University of Missouri. 

Also like many in this room, they do a tremendous amount for the community. Both things you’re familiar with and read in the newspaper, and so much more behind the scenes, that most of us are lucky enough only to know in bits and fragments, because they are also humble.

And this is where it ends. 

Not the Pacesetter’s story, no, we’re not even close to the end. . . . but the surprise. 

If you’ve been here before, you’ve probably noticed that our scriptwriter loves nothing more than to stretch the suspense out as long as possible, and then quietly watch to see when the Pacesetter realizes ‘it’s me’, and when the rest of the crowd catches on. 

So here is probably where we start to give it away. 

On that farm, outside the little town, in the 70s, most kids were learning about hunting and fishing, and playing sports. This youngster was more interested in playing the piano and creating art. At the University of Missouri, he started to study accounting, but ended up with a degree in Tourism. After college, he lived near Vienna, Austria for nearly a year, doing mission work in organizing retreats for members of his church. 

When he returned to the United States, he worked as the director of the Historic Bethel German colony, where he set up festivals . . . until two women from Hannibal, Jean Vincent and Veronica Buben, recruited him to Hannibal to do similar work on a bigger scale. Although the Folklife Festival had already been established when he started at the Hannibal Arts Council 30 years ago, under his leadership it has turned into a world class festival with hundreds of thousands, if not millions, in attendance through the years. 

During those 30 years of ‘steadfast and admirable’ service as Executive Director of the Hannibal Arts Council, he has created countless opportunities for the community, especially youth, to engage with the arts. Most of the youth programs are either free or offer generous scholarships, ensuring that no child is without access to the arts. He has created numerous programs to spotlight local and regional artists, providing opportunities to showcase and sell their works. Events such as arty parties, coffee talks, and art history lunches have flourished with his leadership. 

While all of us in this room certainly know his work with the Hannibal Arts Council, some might not know that for many years he has also served as the Executive Director of the Missouri Association of Community Art Agencies, the state organization for local art councils. In this role, he works with community arts agency boards, staff, and volunteers, creating professional development opportunities and workshops, providing technical assistance and site visits. He encourages art agencies to share information and develop partnerships, just as he does here in Hannibal.

Speaking of those partnerships, one of his nominators noted that when Michael speaks about the arts during site visits in which industries are hearing about the amenities Hannibal has to offer, he barely mentions the arts council. Instead, he highlights the work of the other entities at the table and their partnerships with the arts, which leaves everyone at the table feeling great about the community – not the least of which are those who are already leaders within our community. (If only the Facebook groups could all allow him to provide this experience, right???)

In addition to the arts, he is active in several other community activities, serving on the board of the Hannibal Concert Association and as a Trustee for the Riedel Foundation. There is more – so much more – but it’s often behind the scenes, and much of his work is accomplished without formal positions on committees and boards, but through encouragement of and partnership with other organizations. Another nomination called him “A remarkable Hannibal leader who has played an integral part in infusing the arts into the very fabric of the Hannibal community.” 

He was recently recognized for his 30 years of service to the Hannibal Arts Council, but he received another honor back in 2012 that was memorable. After earning the Missouri Arts Council’s Award for Art Leadership, the City of Hannibal named February 29 as “Michael Gaines Day” – so Michael, it sounds like you have one of those rare breaks in which you are “free from duties with HAC and MACAA” – in your words, days that happen only every four years, coming up later this month!

When he’s not encouraging and infusing arts in our community, Michael is an avid traveler and a little known good samaritan, selflessly caring for others in the community. In addition to his parents and siblings, he has 3 nieces, 3 nephews, and 10 great nieces and nephews, all of whom are an important part of his life. 

Michael Gaines works equally in the spotlight and behind the scenes in ways that would astound many, including those of us who think we know the impact of his work. Michael, even though you have your own day and are now a Pacesetter, we’re looking forward to many more years of your leadership and influence on each of us in this room and our community. Congratulations! “