For recreation director recognized by MML, sometimes work is fun and games

For recreation director recognized by MML, sometimes work is fun and games
Abby Gruber, Westminster Director of Recreation and Parks, hands out free snowballs July 5 at Locust Lane. Gruber spearheaded the campaign to help offer residents respite from the heat and to promote other parks and recreation programs and events. (Alex Mann / Carroll County Times / Carroll County Times)

It’s been a busy few weeks for Abby Gruber, director of Recreation and Parks for Westminster.

In June, she was named Municipal Employee of the year by the Maryland Municipal League out of the 157 local governments the organization represents. Then came July, recognized as Recreation and Parks month for the city, bringing with it a slew of snowball stands, ninja warrior competitions, concerts in the park and planning for the upcoming oyster stroll.


“There is always something to be excited about happening within the City’s Recreation and Parks Department,” Gruber wrote when the Times caught up with her via email.

In her nomination of Gruber for the Maryland Municipal League award, Barbara Matthews, Westminster city administrator, wrote that Gruber “has made a positive impact on the quality of life in the city of Westminster, and we are a better community because of her efforts and contributions.”

“Every day is different which is why I enjoy my job so much” Gruber said. “There is always a new challenge, a new event to work on or a new problem to solve. This type of daily diversity keeps me involved and engaged in my work in a very meaningful way.”

Abby Gruber
Abby Gruber (Courtesy Photo)

She began working for Westminster city government after serving as bureau chief of recreation for Carroll County government.

She said she felt lucky to be selected for a job that was “an equitable challenge for my enthusiasm and abilities.”

Westminster Common Council member Tony Chiavacci said it was an unfortunate garbage incident that convinced him that Gruber had the stuff for the job.

The two had been organizers of a weekend lacrosse competition hosting 10,000 people when Gruber was still working for the county. They were some of the last ones around after the athletes had left, cleaning up trash. As they were lifting a stubborn bag into the dumpster, it split, leaving the two, as Chiavacci unfondly recalls, “drenched in trash juice.”

But he said that Gruber’s ability to laugh it off and finish what needed to be done showed him what a dedicated public servant she is.

“She leads by example,” he said.

Council president Robert Wack said he is particularly impressed with the downtown strolls in Westminster and Gruber’s leadership of the department as they work together to organize them.

Guests “leave with a really fair impression of the city,” he said.

With big events like the Celtic Canter, Fallfest or one of the several strolls that take place in the city, the hardest part is anticipating “the what-ifs” of the day.

“It is our job to be prepared for just about anything, so we cautiously and carefully plan every last detail not only to ensure public safety but also to ensure every guest has a positive experience,” Gruber said.

Being in charge of other people’s fun is not as simple as it might seem.


“When I tell most people what I do for a living, their response is always, ‘Recreation and parks, that must be fun.’ Don’t get me wrong, my job is fun and I absolutely love what I do, but it is also a lot of hard work, the schedule is rigorous and the demands can be stressful at times.”

In the department, the staff are fans of the TV show “Parks and Recreation.” Gruber has a picture on her desk of the show’s main character, Leslie Knope, that reads, “What I hear when I’m being yelled at are people caring loudly at me.”

She and the Recreation and Parks staff are working toward more city events, including the 40th anniversary of Fallfest. She’s also excited about park and facility updates coming soon.

As someone whose business is recreation, she often has the department in the back of her mind while enjoying time off.

“I truly enjoy attending events and festivals produced by other organizations throughout the county and beyond. There are always lessons to learn, new contacts to make and new ideas to adapt to our own events,” she said.