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Experience worth the effort for volunteers at annual Maryland Wine Festival

The annual Maryland Wine Festival is held on the grounds of the Carroll County Farm Museum.
The annual Maryland Wine Festival is held on the grounds of the Carroll County Farm Museum. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

This September will mark 22 years that Pat Bussard has been working the gates at the annual Maryland Wine Festival.

He has met two governors; seen three fights and been through unbearable heat and rain. He has watched the festival grow from just eight wineries attending to more than 30 at this year's event, scheduled for Sept. 20 and 21 at the Carroll County Farm Museum, 500 S. Center St., Westminster.

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Through it all, he has checked bags, purses, coolers and all other items people bring into the two-day festival, chatting all the while.

"I talk to people," Bussard admitted. "It's a lot of fun."

He asked Gov. Robert Ehrlich's photographer to take a photo of him with Maryland's first Republican governor since the 1960s. The following year, he had Ehrlich sign the framed photo.

"I met Gov. [William Donald] Schaefer and his cronies," Bussard said on seeing the former Baltimore mayor, who went on to serve as the state's chief executive. "Commissioners come. It's a good time."

During his 18th year, he recalled that two tall, large fellows tried to bring in a cooler of beer. When Bussard sent them back, they returned with chairs and bags — filled with beer.

"They were laughing. They said, 'You don't miss a thing,' " Bussard said. "They were good-natured about it."

Bussard is one of 500 volunteers who help keep things running smoothly during the two-day festival at the Farm Museum, according to Roger Hardman, volunteer coordinator.

As of Aug. 20, there were still 166 volunteer positions available, according to the wine festival's website.

In addition to monitoring the gate, volunteers sell tickets, check IDs, hand out wine glasses, apply wristbands, deliver ice to the wineries when needed and perform other duties.

"The [wine] glass tent is the most popular [position]," Hardman said. "All you do is hand out glasses to all who attend."

Traditionally, the glass tent positions are the first to fill when Hardman opens a website in May for volunteers to sign up.

Occasionally, volunteers arrive the day of the event, though Hardman prefers all volunteers to be signed up by the week before.

"The day of [the festival] I'm doing training and putting out any fires," Hardman said

Volunteers sign up for three-hour shifts. Occasionally, Hardman may ask for people to take longer shifts if a volunteer doesn't arrive as scheduled. Some volunteers sign up for both days of the event.

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Volunteers must be 21 or older and attend a quick meeting when they arrive on the grounds.

Like Bussard, many volunteers return every year, requesting the same position. Hardman has had volunteers from the Eastern Shore and Virginia.

The hardest shifts to fill are the last ones on Sunday, he said.

He stressed that volunteers do not have to break down tents or fold up chairs. There is a maintenance crew," Hardman said, that will handle those duties.

For their time, volunteers receive a one-day admission pass to the festival and a souvenir glass.

"This is my biggest endeavor," said Hardman, who has been the coordinator for four years.

The two-day event draws about 25,000 people, Hardman said, especially if the weather is good. The event is held rain or shine.

"We've had some pretty bad rain storms. It turns into a mud pit," Hardman chuckled. "It's pretty fun to watch."

While Bussard recalls a few times when it rained, it is the heat he remembers.

"There have been boiling hot days," Bussard said, adding, that the weather has really "been pretty decent."

"I like what I'm doing," Bussard said. It's a good environment."

For information about volunteering, call Roger Hardman at 410-386-3891.

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