On a late-summer Sunday afternoon in Olde Towne Gaithersburg, Mayor Sidney A. Katz stops on a busy side street to ponder a question.
Dozens of vendor and sponsor tents line the Olde Towne streets. In the distance, the sounds of a rock ‘n’ roll band can be heard along with children’s laughter, amusement park rides and friends and neighbors exchanging pleasantries. The smells of international cuisine fill the air.
“This,” Katz proudly proclaims with his hands in the air. “Today is her legacy. This is her legacy.”
“Her,” in this case, is Janet Limmer. And “this” was the 31st annual Celebrate Gaithersburg in Olde Towne Festival, the brainchild of Limmer, a city employee, who officially retired following Sunday’s festival after 35 years of service. It's her legacy because she created it and many other events like it.
For more than three decades, Limmer has dedicated her professional life to one main cause: to bring people together while at the same time promoting the city of Gaithersburg and creating a sense of connectedness for its citizens. And at the end of the day, that’s what Limmer wants to be remembered for.
“[I’d like to be remembered] for bringing families together, improving the quality of life — that’s what recreation is all about,” Limmer said. “And you don’t have to go any place but your own town to have a good family time.”
Limmer served as the Arts and Events division chief for the city and was responsible for planning and hosting numerous events throughout the year — from book festivals to Fourth of July and Labor Day parades — but none hold as much meaning for Limmer as the annual Celebrate Gaithersburg street festival.
“This is the one I’m most proud of,” Limmer said with a smile on Sunday, as she watched people, as she described it, enjoying her idea. “It brings family and people together and that’s important to me. It’s great to see people coming together. It gives me a good feeling.”
The event was born out of an idea Limmer had 32 years ago when she was applying for a job as an event programmer for the city.
“It was an interview question,” Limmer said of how the idea for Celebrate Gaithersburg came about back in 1980. “They asked me what I could do to put Gaithersburg on the map.”
The idea then, Limmer said, was to create an event specific to Gaithersburg and create a sense of community for the city and its residents. But even Limmer herself couldn’t have imagined how much it would evolve since that first festival in 1981.
“The first one was called a ‘country ho-down’ and we held it on the lawn of city hall,” Limmer recalled.
Now, 32 years later, the festival has turned into one of the marquee events of the year. On Sunday afternoon, as the festival was winding down, Limmer began to reflect on what the last 35 years have meant to her.
“It’s been another family,” Limmer said of her time with the city. “It’s given me an outlet to be creative and to try and make a real difference in the lives of the citizens of Gaithersburg.”
In the years since Limmer has been with the city, she has watched the department grow from a staff of two to close to 40, she said.
One of her former employees, Kristen Hux, called Limmer a mentor.
"She's the heart of this event," said Hux, a special events coordinator for the city, adding that she suspects Limmer will still be present to lend a helping hand in future events. "She has meant so much to the City of Gaithersburg and is such a great support to all of us."
Now, Limmer said, it’s time to move on to the next chapter of her life, which she anticipates will be filled with travel and spending time with her family. But of course, as Hux surmised, if a creative idea or two pops into her head for next year's festival, she will be sure to share it.
Regardless of what that next chapter holds, one thing is for certain, Katz said: She’s left an indelible mark on the city.
“Each day has been a success. She’s a wonderful person, a wonderful mother, a wonderful grandmother and a wonderful employee. And she’ll be missed,” Katz said. “I always tell people retirements are a bittersweet moment. On one hand, you’re happy that the person had such a nice, long career. But on the other hand, you’re not going to see them as often. But her spirit is going to live on through all of these festivals for many years to come.”