Leadership Southern Maryland (LSM) hosted its third annual Heritage Awards ceremony on May 21 and bestowed the award for Excellence in Mentoring to retiring executive director Karen Holcomb.
The Heritage Awards were created to recognize, sequentially, individuals throughout the Southern Maryland region for their outstanding leadership, service and mentoring at a ceremony held at the beautiful Sotterley Plantation in Hollywood. This year’s celebration continued that tradition and served as an official farewell to Holcomb, the organization’s first executive director and integral partner in LSM’s launch and growing success.
Current LSM Board President Mark DeLuca told the large crowd gathered at Sotterley, “I don’t think there is a person here today that doesn’t realize LSM and LEAD wouldn’t be where they are today without Karen’s tireless efforts.”
Since its 2008 inception, when launched by a group of graduates from the state-wide Leadership Maryland program, Holcomb has been the face of the regional leadership organization. From the recruitment breakfasts and candidate interviews to the comprehensive, day-long programs and six graduation ceremonies, she has worked behind-the-scenes and has been ever-present to ensure the LSM experience is an inspiring one for those who take what she called the leap of faith to be part of this incredible journey.
Holcomb’s love of education began with her work as a special education teacher and her leadership skills were honed during a 33-year career in a variety of positions at NAS Patuxent River. Her retirement in July of 2007 was short-lived when the opportunity arose to become part of an educational, experiential program for rising leadership within the region she calls home.
Many of the founding board members spoke at the ceremony, sharing personal stories of how Holcomb’s natural mentoring had impacted their lives and their shared goal of creating and strengthening a regional leadership program.
Capt. Matt Scassero, (USN, Ret.), Director of UMD UAS Test Site, said the original founders ran into the interesting quandary of who do you get to lead a leadership program. He said while the choices were many, very quickly one rose above the rest in Karen Holcomb and noted her competence, courage and compassion offered exactly what was needed to steer the fledgling organization.
“Through it all,” Scassero said, “[Holcomb] has exemplified what Lady Thatcher once said about power and leadership: ‘Being powerful is like being a lady, if you have to tell people you are, you aren’t’… Karen is certainly both.”
He explained the representation behind LSM’s selection of a lighthouse for its logo, with a clear signal of optimism shining through the darkness to lead the way and presented Holcomb with an original painting by local artist Mary Lou Troutman featuring a lighthouse of Southern Maryland.
Founder, Past Board President and Principal at Booz, Allen, Hamilton Ray Wernecke presented Holcomb with the traditional Heritage Awards gift of the pearl in the crystal oyster and stated, “Almost all of us here have had the privilege of being the beneficiary of an individual who so naturally shares her God-given gifts and personal experiences… simply to have a lasting, positive impact on someone else’s life.”
Past Board President Susan Vogel, Executive Director, Charles Regional Medical Center Foundation, Inc. utilized a bowl of fruit to deliver a humorous and heart-felt speech for Holcomb. “If there is one word to describe Karen, it’s generous. And as we think back on our lives during LSM, blossoming, growing and giving back, it’s only fitting that one of our parting gifts to Karen would be the most generous of trees, providing both flowers and fruit,” Vogel stated, presenting her with the gift of a live, patio-sized orange tree.
Founding Boarding members Tom Jarboe, Bert Johnston and, by letter, Delores Martin praised the strong leadership and continued mentoring Holcomb has provided, making the personal experience of each graduate of the LSM and LEAD programs a unique and inspiring one.
Strathmore Hall CEO and program facilitator Eliot Pfanstiehl called Holcomb “a small but mighty force of nature” and said he was sure, even after retirement, she would continue to work on behalf of community, civility and progress. He stated, “There are far too few humans of her ilk in this world.”
In a display of genuine humility, Holcomb’s acceptance speech consisted mostly of thanking her daughter, Janice Tyson Zilch, for celebrating the retirement with her, the founders for their faith in her, the alumni that participate with enthusiasm and promote the program among their peers, the facilitators, sponsors, volunteers and staff that have all supported the LSM mission. “It really is all about the people,” she stated.
“I really am humbled and so very grateful to share this time with you,” Holcomb said, adding the connections made, transformations witnessed and experiences shared would stay with her for a lifetime.
As Holcomb transitions into her welcomed retirement to spend more time with her family members, twin grandsons and husband, Jack, she continues to be active within her community and has worked to ensure a smooth transition to LSM’s new Executive Director Helen Wernecke.
The many lives Karen Holcomb has personally touched through her astounding mentoring abilities, in addition to a strong and growing LSM program, are only small pieces of her lasting legacy.