(Giving) Trees fest founder stepping down.

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Byline: Brian Lee

SOUTHBRIDGE - Susan Hapgood will chair her 14th and final Festival of (Giving) Trees, to benefit cancer research, today.

After a long run, the event founder said a desire to spend more time in Florida with her husband is part of the reason she wants to pass the baton.

The festival is basically a big Christmas-tree decorating contest, with food and related events, to raise money for cancer research and the fight against breast cancer. The trees will ultimately be raffled off.

The event will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday at the LaSalle Reception Center at Notre Dame, 444 Main St. Admission is $3. Children younger than 12 accompanied by an adult get in free.

Last year, the festival donated $45,000, divided evenly among the Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition, the Silent Spring Institute, and Harrington Hospital's Cancer Center.

Asked about the possibility of this being the last festival, Ms. Hapgood said she hopes

that isn't

the case, and has been talking to two others about taking the reins.

"I don't think it will be the end," she said.

She said many people over the years have expressed gratitude for the event, which has served as a forum for their feelings on how the disease has touched them.

Ms. Hapgood started the event because a girlfriend she went to high school with was working with the institute, the sister organization of the breast cancer coalition.

The girlfriend asked Ms. Hapgood to raise money because the institute's funding was continually cut.

Ms. Hapgood said she went to a festival of giving trees in Methuen, and those organizers told her how to start one here. It was originally held at the Cohasse Country Club.

Many people return to decorate and donate trees, and those who don't come back have been easily replaced because of the growth in the popularity of the event, she said.

This year's festival will have more than 120 "sparkling and uniquely decorated" Christmas trees, organizers said.

Tomorrow, people 62 and older are admitted free. Saturday is Children's Day.

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