JACOB deNOBEL
Carroll County Times

WESTMINSTER, Md. (AP) — For more than 20 years, there has been one name closely associated with the Carroll County Farm Museum, that of Dottie Freeman. This past August, after a 28-year career with the organization, Freeman announced her retirement, leaving behind what her co-workers call an indelible legacy.

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Freeman’s career with the Farm Museum began simply in 1986. At the time, she said, two of her children were off at college with her third ready to graduate high school. With a soon-to-be empty household, Freeman said she began considering going back to work. A friend suggested she apply for an open secretarial position at the Farm Museum. She filled out the application, but when it came time to drop it off, she said she froze.

“I don’t know what happened. I got cold feet,” Freeman said. “My husband sat with me in the parking lot and he told me, `If you don’t take that application in, I’m going to go in with it.’ I’m glad he did (convince me to apply).”

Freeman said her attraction to the Farm Museum could be traced to her family history.

“I grew up in Carroll County with my grandparents who had a 150-acre farm, and we opened a big garden patch,” Freeman said. “Basically, it was a living history kind of atmosphere I was growing up in.”

Freeman said early on, she had an experience that meshed with the lessons the Farm Museum would teach her over the rest of her career.

“I remember the first time we had visitors at the farm museum, I thought I knew everything I had to know. That was until they asked me the one question I couldn’t answer — where are the bathrooms?” Freeman said. “That’s when I realized that the learning process would never be over.”

From her secretarial position, Freeman moved up to camp coordinator, marketing coordinator, assistant administrator, and then to the position with which she would become known for, that of administrator, later re-titled president.

“Basically, I was an energetic person with a lot of ideas. As openings came together I started to take them,” Freeman said. “They were sort of steppingstones that helped me to learn the ins and outs of the farm museum.”

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Freeman’s tenure as administrator began in 1994. Since then, she has overseen the growth of the Maryland Wine Festival — which began a year before her hiring, in 1985 — from having fewer than 1,000 people attend into to a statewide event, attracting more than 20,000 people every year.

Jack Lyburn, director of the Carroll County Department of Economic Development, said Freeman and the Farm Museum, to him, are one and the same.

“Her contributions can’t be understated. She brought in all of those artifacts to display them and protect the history of Carroll County,” Lyburn said. “She’s been instrumental in making it an educational highlight for the children. She raised the bar with the awareness of the museum and the history of farming in Carroll County.”

Lyburn said the Farm Museum is one of the most important places in Carroll County, from the festivals, seminars, exhibitions and animals it offers. He said it encompasses what life in Carroll County is all about.

“Our No. 1 industry in Carroll County is still farming. A lot of people come and relocate here because of the quality of life, and that is tied into our farmland,” Lyburn said. “The history is extremely important. You need to know where you were before you know where you’re going. The farm museum is the No. 1 gem in Carroll County, and she is responsible for getting the word out.”

In 2013, the Farm Museum’s management was moved to the Carroll County Office of Tourism, transforming the site into a year-round destination. Bonnie Staub, manager of the Carroll County Office of Tourism, said she is in awe of Freeman’s tireless efforts to support the museum.

“I think it portrays a very positive attitude to the staff. When you’re so passionate about the job, I think that generates excitement down to the staff,” Staub said. “She had a great staff to work with down there. I think that’s a great asset to have. You don’t want someone who is `bah humbug.’ You need someone who is very positive. She was that figure.”

Following Freeman’s retirement, the Carroll County Farm Museum named Joanne Weant as Freeman’s successor. Though announced in August, Freeman said her retirement didn’t truly begin until the week of Dec. 29.

“I can finally sleep in,” Freeman said. “I’m getting reacquainted with my home and projects. It’s really nice.”

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(Copyright 2014 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)