By Brenda L. Holmes
Participants of Leadership Hendricks County — past and present — gathered this week for a reunion and to honor Suzanne Whicker who has retired from her post as executive director of the organization.
Leadership Hendricks County is a program that gives community members a chance to become better leaders by learning about different facets of life in Hendricks County. Participants spend a year learning about everything from farming to government, and education to business.
Whicker, one of the program’s first participants, served as executive director of LHC for 18 years. She announced her intention to retire in 2012.
She was honored during the organization’s “reunion,” held each year to give graduates a chance to network and raise funds to keep the program going.
Gary Emsweller helped to implement the program when it first started here.
“We have an award we give called the Distinguished Service Award,” Emsweller said. “Now, we don’t give this award every year. We’ve given it to four people over the years. The first to receive it was Suzanne. Then we gave one to Deedee Daniel. The third award was given to David Whicker — we thought we would keep it in the family — and the fourth person to receive the award was Kent McPhail. I am pleased to announce that from this day forward it will be called the Suzanne Whicker Distinguished Service Award.”
State Sen. Peter Miller awarded the Distinguished Hoosier Award to Whicker for her service to the community. That award was formerly called the Sagamore of the Wabash.
“Now this has been in the works for awhile, so it’s signed by Gov. Mitch Daniels,” Miller said. “I consider it a personal honor to give this to you from the state.”
Whicker thanked her family and all those who came to the event to celebrate her retirement.
“LHC now has over 400 graduates,” she said. “And many of them like to call me Mother Whicker. It is our responsibility to keep this program going. This is my sales pitch. We need you to financially help the program and bring your co-workers to help us grow. As alumni, we need to pay it forward.”
Susan Rozzi is the organization’s new executive director.
“We have a wise board and I am so thankful for their selection of Susan,” Whicker said. “The program is in good hands.”
She thanked Rozzi and Joan Mattinson, who serves as the program assistant for LHC.
“Joan, if it had not been for you, I wouldn’t have made it through this last year,” Whicker said. “You are the best helpmate and a rock solid person.”
Rozzi thanked Whicker for her leadership while training her to fill the position.
“I’ve been on the job for five months now and I am so thankful for such a wonderful leader, mentor, and friend in Suzanne,” Rozzi said. “This is a good time to be involved with this program. We are blessed with a board with a vision and passion.”
The program also included a testimony from graduate Adriann Barger.
Barger works for the United Way of Central Indiana. She is a graduate of both the Youth Leadership program and the adult Leadership Hendricks County program.
“I am a member of the best youth class, 2003,” Barger said. “I am also a member of the class of 2012. We just graduated and I can tell you these programs have had an impact on Hendricks County.”
Barger participated in the youth program when she was a student at Tri-West High School. She then attended Purdue University and returned to work in Hendricks County.
“And in 2010 I came back,” she said. “We are coming back.”
There are two other individuals who have also completed both programs — Eric Hessel, program director for the Hendricks County Community Foundation, and Marina Keers, executive director of Hendricks County Senior Services.
The Leader of the Year award was given to Mike Rogers who serves as president of the Avon Town Council.