A community advocate whose vision is helping to turn downtown Salisbury into a thriving arts destination and an organization that serves its namesake’s legacy by providing millions of dollars to strengthen area organizations are the 2014 recipients of the Salisbury University President’s Distinguished Community Leadership Awards.
Lee Whaley receives the individual award, while the Richard A. Henson Foundation is recognized with the organizational honor. Their work is celebrated during SU’s 88th year Spring Commencement, held at 10 a.m. today at the Wicomico Youth & Civic Center.
Whaley “has been a pillar of the Salisbury community and the greater Eastern Shore since she began her work as a liaison for U.S. Senator Paul Sarbanes in 1991,” said her nominator, Robert Sheehan, SU director of government and community relations and deputy chief of staff.
“Lee’s impact on our community has been substantial and wide ranging. On many occasions throughout her career, Lee interceded on behalf of some of the neediest of citizens in our community for a variety of issues.”
These included assisting individuals with Social Security concerns, veterans’ issues and relief coordination for victims of Hurricane Isabel and Superstorm Sandy. According to U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, for whom Whaley also worked, her outreach to citizens earned her the unofficial title “Governor of the Eastern Shore.”
Now retired from government service, Whaley continues to serve the community as a pioneering member of the Salisbury Arts and Entertainment District Committee, credited with helping revitalize the downtown area. She also is a member of a number of community organizations, including the Rotary Club of Salisbury and Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce.
“Without the work of Lee Whaley, both personally and professionally, the Lower Eastern Shore certainly would not be the place that it is today,” said Sheehan.
Created by Maryland aviation pioneer Richard A. Henson in 1990, the Richard A. Henson Foundation continues to uphold the values and beliefs of its founder through community philanthropy.
In the past 24 years, the foundation has contributed millions to education, wellness and recreational facilities including SU, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Wor-Wic Community College, Peninsula Regional Medical Center, Salisbury Zoological Park, YMCA and Boy Scouts of America Del-Mar-Va Council.
The foundation is “an organization that has made extraordinary contributions to the community and people of the Lower Eastern Shore,” said its nominator, Dr. Karen Olmstead, dean of SU’s Richard A. Henson School of Science and Technology. “As indicated by their motto, [the foundation’s board of directors] work ‘so that others may soar.’”
Olmstead added that SU is not the first organization to honor Henson and his foundation; the Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore, which Henson helped create, presents an annual Richard A. Henson Award for Nonprofit Excellence in recognition of the late aviator’s commitment to fulfilling community needs.
“Because they operate behind the scenes, it’s hard to list all who have benefitted from their generosity,” said Jason Curtin, deputy director of the SU Foundation, about the Henson Foundation’s board members. “However, many organizations on the Delmarva Peninsula have benefited from this organization’s good work and philanthropic spirit.”
SU’s Community Leadership Awards are presented annually in two categories: individual and organization. Those in Wicomico, Worcester, Somerset, Dorchester, Accomack, Northampton and Sussex counties are eligible.