By Brenda L. Holmes
Susie Friend is retiring from Hendricks County United Way on a high note, as the agency hit its $1 million goal for its annual fundraising campaign.
The community came out to the Hendricks County Senior Center on Wednesday evening to wish her well and thank her for her years of service.
“We are here to celebrate the great service of Susie Friend,” Don Peoples said. “And her service was great.”
Peoples served as the event’s emcee and introduced several speakers who have worked with Friend over the years, either when she was director of the Hendricks County office of the United Way of Central Indiana or when she was a community affairs representative for Indiana Gas.
Adriann Barger recently took over Friend’s position with the United Way. She kicked off the program by giving a little bit of her history with Friend.
“I met Susie when I was 13 years old,” Barger said. “It was in this very room when we were holding a kick-off event for YAR (Youth As Resources). She has always been so warm and inviting.
“When I came to the United Way, I knew I wanted to make a place for myself. For the past four years I've had the best teacher. I want to work from the foundation Susie has built for the Hendricks County United Way.”
Suzanne Whicker told about how she came to know Friend.
“It was several years ago,” Whicker said. “I did a color draping for this beautiful lady and taught her about the colors she should wear. We were also in the first ever — best ever — Leadership Hendricks County class together.”
Whicker recently retired as executive director of Leadership Hendricks County where she worked closely with the United Way.
“You know I don’t believe I’ve ever seen Susie when she has not been smiling,” Whicker said. “She has that great giggle and is a true friend. You're a quality lady and you raised that $1million just in time.”
Whicker had the honor of presenting Friend with a proclamation signed by Gov. Mike Pence, naming her a Distinguished Hoosier.
Mary Kay Hood, director of guest and volunteer services for Hendricks Regional Health, spoke about the history of the Hendricks County United Way office and how Friend came to be the director.
“When it all started, it was called the Community Fund,” Hood said. “It was in the late '90s when the process began to have local representation. I was on the advisory board when we started the hiring process.”
She said when Friend applied for the position, the committee decided the search was over.
“Susie jumped in with both feet,” Hood said. “She set a course and started on the campaign. They set a goal of $250,000 that first year and I thought we would never make it. But Susie blew the socks off of that first goal. The word 'no' is not in her vocabulary.”
For the past 11 years the Wings of Golf outing has served as the kick-off event for the annual United Way campaign drive.
“It’s been a huge success and this year we hit $1 million,” Hood said. “I think the United Way office downtown is secretly jealous of what we have out here. The United Way presence in Hendricks County is a thriving philanthropic entity. Susie, thank you for the memories.”
Andy Mohr is serving as the current campaign chairman. He represented the United Way of Central Indiana at the event.
“Susie is perpetually optimistic,” he said. “What she does every day is tough but you wouldn’t know it. She takes a hands-on approach and has been a true blessing.”
Friend took the podium to introduce her family and thank all of those who came to honor her.
“You know how to throw a party,” she said. “I worked for 43 years and have made great friends. For the first 29 years of my career, I worked for Indiana Gas in community affairs. It prepared me to work for the United Way of Central Indiana.”
She reflected on getting to work with several organizations in and around the community.
“I’ve been able to work with the Colts over the years and been a part of the NFL’s partnership with the United Way,” Friend said. “Grey Hylton took great care of us in the Colts suite. Andrew Luck looked over and asked my husband, ‘How’s that cheeseburger?’”
She said she was asked to waive the green flag at Lucas Oil Raceway and had many other exciting opportunities during her time with United Way.
“I got to see Don Peoples dress like a Wheaties Box and Bart Beal as a super hero,” she said. “I was also able to break ground at the domestic violence shelter next door. I also got to be a Keystone Kop at Victory Field.”
Friend said one of the great experiences she had was last year when she brought together 16 CEOs to strategize on the $1 million goal.
“And we were successful," she said. "It's been a team effort to go from raising $250,000 to $1 million.”
She thanked her family and all of those in the community who have helped her to make Hendricks County United Way successful.
“And to my husband, ‘thank you honey,’” she said. “And with Adriann as your new director, you'll see the United Way taken to a whole new level. And remember — I’m just a phone call away.”