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Making annual Arbutus Arts Festival go according to plan

Anyone looking for Sue Miller on the day of the 41st annual Arbutus Arts Festival can expect to find her walking East Drive, walkie-talkie sending and receiving a steady stream of messages.

Miller has spent the past 30 years helping to organize the largest one-day festival held in the state, according to its organizers, the last five as chairwoman of the Arbutus Arts Festival Committee. She has spent about 100 hours since January helping to plan the event with 19 other committee members, she said.

"I think it's her passion, doing this for the community," said committee member Richard Greene. "She's been doing it for a very long time, and she wants to make sure it goes well."

Sunday, May 18, will be a busy day for Miller and other committee members. Although the festival is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., the group begins their day at 4 a.m. to set up the stands and activities that will be bustling throughout the day.

Hundreds of arts and crafts vendors from across the Eastern Seaboard, music, food, children's events, a beer garden and a classic car show need to be in their places for the thousands who will fill the main street in downtown Arbutus.

"It's a family-oriented event," Miller said. "There's something for everybody."

There were nearly 170 crafters signed up to display and sell their creations 10 days before the event and Miller anticipates the total will climb to 200 people.

Miller said there's always a last minute rush for vendors to sign up in the final days leading up to the festival.

In addition to crafters, a number of local nonprofits and community organizations will be handing out information. Each year, about 200 volunteers offer their time for the event.

While it's a fun day, it's also a lot of hard work for her and others who have spent months planning it. Miller said at the end of the day, the committee members of volunteers will be exhausted.

"The end of the day is rewarding when it's successful, and it's a let down that it's over," Miller said.

Profits from the event will go to the Arbutus Business and Professional Association, and right back into the community, said Greene, an Arbutus resident and owner of Arbutus Auto Body.

The ABPA will use the money for things such as cutting grass in the center of Arbutus, hiring workers to maintain the community and providing scholarships to students, Greene said.

As chairwoman of the committee, Miller is responsible for ensuring the day runs smoothly. Her years of experience event planning for the St. Agnes Hospital Foundation help.

"When I took charge of the arts festival, I brought with me procedures that I had at the foundation. I was used to an agenda, a timeline and taking minutes at every meeting. I brought that same concept with me," Miller said.

Sitting in the Village Junction Bakery and Cafe in Arbutus on Wednesday after work, Miller is recognized by neighborhood residents who come into the shop. She is a board member of the ABPA, and was a member of the Greater Catonsville Chamber of Commerce, the Lansdowne Business and Professional Association, and the Wilkens Police and Community Relations Association.

Miller said the Arbutus Arts Festival Committee is like a "second family" to her. Many of the committee members have grown close over time, Miller said.

Jeff Utzinger, who used to serve as chairman of the festival, said Miller is a good leader.

"She's very detail oriented and organized," said Utzinger, 47, who has helped organize the event for 20 years. "And it's a good group of people she works with."

Greene said Miller's professional event planning experience is beneficial.

Many committee members like Utzinger and Greene have been involved in the planning for years. But Miller said they're hoping to attract some new members to plan the event next year.

At 63, Miller has lived between Catonsville and Arbutus her entire life.

She has been focused on her career for the majority of her life and works in the emergency services department at St. Agnes.

When not at work or spending time with her new granddaughter, she enjoys being involved in the community.

"Doing the community thing, you don't really have time for hobbies," Miller said.

Her daughter, Sandi Stansell, who lives in Arbutus, is also secretary of the committee, which allows them to spend time together.

Miller said she took a break from the festival once, but it didn't feel right.

"I've been doing this for so long, I did get out of it for one year, but it just wasn't the same," Miller said. "To be down here and walk the street after the festival after you've been involved, you're just missing something."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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