BRATTLEBORO—Many who received the Strolling of the Heifers’ invitations to a Jan. 31 retirement party for founder and executive director Orly Munzing had the same initial reaction: Did she really mean it this time?
Fresh off a month-long vacation in the Caribbean with her husband, Bob Dunbar, Munzing assures everyone that, yes, she really means it this time.
The 66-year-old Dummerston resident had made a previous attempt at stepping away last spring but soon found herself resuming her work. But Munzing says she will step down as executive director of the organization she helped create in 2002.
But she is not completely divorcing herself from the Stroll, saying that she will continue to be a volunteer for the organization.
The Stroll, she said, “is a glue trap. Once you’re in, you never leave.”
‘She builds and builds and builds’
That sentiment was echoed by many of the speakers who came to the River Garden to pay tribute to Munzing.
They drew attention to how she worked to create a downtown parade of cows to draw attention to Vermont’s dairy-farming legacy, building the event into a multi-pronged nonprofit organization aimed at supporting local farms and helping create new businesses linked to local agriculture.
Munzing’s longtime neighbor, Jack Davidson, now of Brattleboro, went from volunteering for the first parade to serving as the chair of the Stroll’s board of directors.
“Orly is never, ever slow,” said Davidson. “She builds and builds and builds,” he said, citing how Stroll “exponentially” grew over the past two decades.
Roger Allbee of Townshend — the state secretary of agriculture, food, and markets when the Stroll began — said that Windham County agricultural icon and apple grower Dwight Miller encouraged Munzing to start the Stroll “because she had that drive and determination to get something done.”
Showing people where their food comes from was a big reason why Strolling of the Heifers was founded. Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, also a longtime organic farmer, praised Munzing for those efforts.
And U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a supporter of the Stroll since its inception, took time out from the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump and his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination to insert a salute to Munzing and the Stroll into the Congressional Record.
Sanders called Munzing “an extraordinary Vermonter and a longtime advocate for family farms and resilient communities,” and praised how she “transformed a small town parade into a widely-renowned event celebrating sustainable agriculture and family farms.”
Munzing was presented with a framed copy of Sanders’ remarks, a gift she said she would treasure because of the senator’s fondness for the event. He marched in 17 Strolls and took part several times in its celebrity milking contest.
Munzing said she’s going back on another long vacation with her husband, this time to Europe.
When she gets back, she said she will help the Stroll’s new executive director, Lissa Harris, put together the 2020 Strolling of the Heifers events.
In her remarks to the more than 150 people jammed into the River Garden, Munzing said that hearing all the praise now “is better than at a funeral,” and gave her thanks to the many volunteers and staffers who “made the Stroll what it is today.”
“It could only happen in Brattleboro, Vermont,” she said. “I am totally convinced of that.”