WINCHESTER — Two longtime employees of the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival — Executive Director John Rosenberger and office manager Donna Saville — announced Wednesday they plan to retire.
Rosenberger’s last day is Sept. 21. Saville will work until Oct. 15.
“It’s just time,” Saville said at her desk in the festival office at 135 N. Cameron St.
She has worked for the festival for 38 years and said she’s ready to join her husband Bruce in retirement and “take life easy.”
Rosenberger, who has been the festival’s executive director for 21 years, also has reached a point in his life where he wants to devote more time to family and hobbies.
“I’m going to do a lot more work on my farm,” he said. “That’s what I really want to do.”
Both told the festival’s board of directors about their retirement plans in June, but a public announcement wasn’t made until Wednesday.
They indicated would like to train their successors and become festival volunteers in the future. Scores of volunteers help with the springtime festival. The 92nd festival wrapped up in May.
“Despite the timing, both Ms. Saville and Mr. Rosenberger have stated unequivocally that there is no connection between their announcements,” a news release from the festival states.
Saville and Rosenberger — both full-time, salaried employees of the nonprofit organization — said it has become more challenging to host the multi-day festival each year. They cited increased permitting, insurance and bureaucracy for adding to the festival’s expenses and workload.
Several years in a row of bad weather during the festival also have taken a financial toll. The event has numerous outdoor activities, including parades, carnival amusements, parties and a wine festival.
“We haven’t made any money in four, five, six years,” Rosenberger said. “The festival has not been able to contribute to its rainy day fund.”
The festival had a net income of $35,054 in fiscal 2017 and a net loss of $44,100 in FY 2016, according to its IRS 990 form. A $6,238 loss was recorded in FY 2015 and a $20,599 loss was posted in fiscal 2014. Data wasn’t available for FY 2018. These figures represent the remainder of costs subtracted from total revenue, which, according to IRS documents, has been between $1.5 million and $1.8 million per year since 2014.
Saville, who handles the festival’s accounting, said it has “definitely” become more of a financial challenge to put on the festival in recent years.
“It’s pretty nip and tuck,” Saville said, adding that every aspect of organizing such a major event has gone up in cost dramatically since she started working there, but bad weather has cut into the ticket sales the festival needs to cover expenses. “The last few years have not been good.”
Saville said she did not want to paint too bleak a picture, though. “We’re OK.”
She became emotional as she talked about the numerous festival volunteers she has befriended over the years.
“I’ve made a lot of great friends,” she said. “They’re like family.”
Despite its challenges, Saville believes the festival will continue to be a benefit. “It’s a great community event for the people of Winchester,” she said.
Rosenberger said he planned to retire by 70, which is the age he will turn this fall.
“I’m gambling about having 20 more good years,” he said. “I can tell you I’m not going to be the sit-on-the-porch type.”
About the state of the festival, Rosenberger said he feels there has been a decline in public support for the event, both from local government and people in general.
“A lot of entities used to do everything in their power to make sure the festival was going to be great,” he said. But as legal and financial requirements have increased, the willingness to waive permit fees or payments for land use has gone down. “The festival pretty much has to stand on its own now.”
He also feels the festival can’t compete with modern entertainment and travel. In its earlier years, the festival’s parades and pageants were the most impressive events that townspeople and farm families would see all year. That’s not true today, he said. “People are much more jaded today. They’ve just seen so much.”
Rosenberger said the festival needs new leadership that can keep up with modern trends.
But he admitted that moving on to a new chapter in his life will be challenging for him.
“I love the job. I love the people. It was never going to be easy,” he said. “I guess I wish I was 49 and starting the whole thing over.”