An introspective moment for Apple Blossom Festival organizer Rick McNeil. PHOTO BY ANTHONY CAMMALLERI

Volunteer Shortage Threatens Future of Apple Blossom Festival

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Kiwanis President Arthur Benoit with Rick McNeil at a planning session for the Apple Blossom Festival. PHOTO BY ANTHONY CAMMALLERI

Kiwanis President Arthur Benoit (left) with Rick McNeil at a planning session for the Apple Blossom Festival. PHOTO BY ANTHONY CAMMALLERI

 

The Westford Kiwanis will host its annual Apple Blossom parade, on Saturday, May 12, marking the 50th, and perhaps the last, Kiwanis Apple Blossom festival.

After 50 years of organizing the event, the 12-person community service group, Westford Kiwanis, has come to a crossroads over whether or not to continue single-handedly running the annual spring festivities.

With the retirement of Apple Blossom Chairman Rick McNeil, along with a festival growing bigger year by year, the Kiwanis organization, according to Publicity Chairman Bowman Budinger, is too short-staffed to continue on the way it has in years past.

“The Apple Blossom festival keeps getting bigger, and bigger, and bigger each year, while the Kiwanis gets slightly smaller each year, and now we find that we don’t seem to have the manpower or the hand work to put this thing on,” Budinger said.

At this point, Budinger said, Kiwanis is considering a few potential solutions. The group can either attempt to tackle the entire festival independently next year, cut back the size of the event, merge with another Westford organization, or discontinue the celebration altogether. Hoping to preserve the history and community of Apple Blossom, Kiwanis is leaning toward the idea of bringing in another organization for help.

“The one [option] we’d like most to pursue is to continue the Apple Blossom and partner with some other community organization. What we envision there, is that we would share the jobs and responsibilities with another organization and we would also share in the proceedings, so that it would not only be a money maker for the Westford Kiwanis, but for some other local organization as well,” Budinger said.

The Apple Blossom celebrations first began as an ode to the new growing season back in 1935 when Westford was primarily known for its many apple orchards. In 1937, however, the celebration came to an end. It was not until 31 years later, in 1968, that Kiwanis officially brought the Apple Blossom Festival back.

In the last 35 years, McNeil has remained an active member of Kiwanis, dedicating four months of each year, January through May, to Apple Blossom planning.

Although McNeil is currently in the process of a slow and gradual retirement, he is not yet willing to abandon certain aspects of his job. Despite the sums of time and energy Kiwanis spends every year making the festival happen, the fruits of labor, McNeil said, are too sweet to pass up completely.

“My youngest son graduated in 2013, so I don’t know how long I’ll be in town for, and I basically tried to put together a five-year transition plan. I said I would stick around for the 50th [anniversary] but I’m not going to abandon it,”  McNeil said.

“We really have no overhead, so all the money we raise can go back to families in need, to scholarships, and to the senior center. We’ve supported the food pantry, and a lot of things. We’ve also done a lot behind the scenes. People will reach out to us in need, and we just help them out. I just won’t give that up. I’m never ready to give up that,” he said.

To Kiwanis President Arthur Benoit, Apple Blossom acts not only as a charity fundraiser or a Westford tradition, but as an adhesive for the community; one that, Benoit said, will change the town if it were to go away.

“It changes that community feeling when you lose stuff like that, so we’ve done everything that we can to keep it going, but a lot of us are worn very thin,” Benoit said.

McNeil is hoping that either individual volunteers or community programs will join in to keep Apple Blossom alive and well.

“Our biggest concern is just getting the help, getting the interest,” McNeil said.

“Without other organizations stepping in and helping, we just can’t handle it. That’s the biggest concern. We’ve got some contingency plans as far as how we can potentially scale it back, you know, what we can handle, and we hate to scale anything back because it’s the whole package. It’s a 50-year tradition, and I’d like to see it go for 50 more,” he said.

Anthony Cammalleri is a Westford Academy senior completing his capstone internship at WestfordCAT.