Amy Zapal took over as the executive director of St. Joseph Today in February.
The Chicago native worked as the event coordinator at Stage Flights of South Haven for a year and a half before being hired as the events coordinator at the Heritage Museum in St. Joseph in 2010.
She became co-director at the Heritage Museum in 2011 and then executive director.
St. Joseph Today is responsible for planning many of the events and activities hosted in downtown St. Joseph and Benton Harbor. Visitors may have seen Amy at events such as BBQ, Blues and Bluegrass or Chalk the Block in St. Joseph.
What do you think makes Michiana unique in comparison to other places?
The beaches and the beautiful agriculture. Things like our breweries, our wineries, our restaurants and our farmer’s markets. They all come from that agriculture. The beaches are as critical as the agriculture. The harbor here is a working waterfront that is pretty amazing. And yet right next to that you have a recreational beach.
The people are pretty amazing. They are warm and love to share their homes with visitors.
What is your favorite place to visit in Michiana?
In St. Joseph, there is a wonderful local history museum called the Heritage Museum that I was a part of. There is the Krasl Art Center. There is the Curious Kids Museum that we loved when my children were little.
The Arts District in Benton Harbor is thriving with a yoga studio, an art studio and all sorts of things there. We love Tiscornia Beach.
You can take a lighthouse tour and go right up to the very top to the lighthouse and look out at this amazing view.
Fernwood Botanical Gardens is just gorgeous, even when it is winter. One of my favorite things to do is go out and visit our breweries and wineries. There is tasting, live music and food trucks so it seems like every day there is a celebration here.
What is your favorite time of year?
I am a summer girl from way back. The beach is actually what made me move to Michigan. There is nothing like the beaches on the west coast of Michigan. So, summer for sure, but every season has something really cool about it.
One of the traditions that my family has is every Christmas day we go for a walk on the beach. Sometimes it is a blizzard, sometimes it is 50, sometimes it is 50 below it seems like, but we mark every year by walking the beach on a holiday to mark the passage of time.
If you were to meet someone planning a visit to the Michiana area for the first time, what places would you tell them or her not to miss?
I would definitely do a lighthouse tour. It is one of the only lighthouses that you can actually go into and go up to the top of. So, to see Benton Harbor and St. Joseph from the top of the lighthouse is amazing. Then you look out over Lake Michigan. Lake Michigan is pretty awe-inspiring in every way. So, to be able to get that vantage point is a good way to get your feet underneath you when you get to into town.
I would check stjoetoday.com for events that are going on. We do a really great event in May called BBQ, Blues and Bluegrass. It is a remarkable day-long festival. It is a taste of Michigan so you can taste a lot of barbecue, beers and wines and hear a lot of great music. Tickets are reasonably priced.
So, for a day-long festival, if you are into music, I would say come in May and hit that. If you like to celebrate winter and the cooler months we have something called “Luminary Fest.” We line the streets with luminaries and it is a remarkable way to celebrate the cooler weather and the coming of the holidays without necessarily being invaded with the holiday stuff. It is in mid-November before just before Thanksgiving.