Written By Cari Pierce

To paraphrase a well-worn maxim, behind every exceptional man is an exceptional woman. But when that man honors his mate, there is real evidence of symbiosis, a pairing of soul mates.

On December 8, 1993, attorney Kenneth Holniker–prominent Carroll County attorney, philanthropist, and political activist– lost his wife of 34 years, M. Peggy Holniker, to cancer. When speaking of Peggy, even now, Ken tears up – emotion turns his voice husky. The 77- year-old, longtime resident of Carroll County is still practicing law and, in recent months, recuperating from a stroke. Today, he is dedicated to ensuring that his wife, the life they shared, the community they served, and the deeds they accomplished are remembered.

Holniker grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, the youngest of five children. His father, a “railroad man,” and his mother, a homemaker, moved the family to Maryland when Ken was 13. He dropped out of high school in 10th grade – eventually earning his high school diploma through the GED (General Educational Development) program.

At 17, he enlisted in Coast Guard and sailed the North Atlantic in the months before the end of World War II. Upon leaving the service, he was encouraged by someone at the VA to attend law school.

“If it wasn’t for the GI Bill, I doubt if I would have ever been a lawyer,” said Holniker. “The GI Bill did a lot for people and I’m a good example of how good that system was.”

Advice taken, Holniker sought his law degree at the University of Baltimore. Passing the bar took persistence – the fifth time was a charm. Holniker learned early on that one has to be “consistent and persistent – those are the secrets to success.”

As a fledgling attorney, “I met Peg under the strangest of circumstances,” he said. “I was hustling for workÉ and a friend of mine told me that one of the women’s apparel shops down in Baltimore was looking for someone to collect some bad accounts.” The credit manager at the store was Peggy.

Was it love at first sight? “Well it was for me,” said Holniker. They married in 1959 after Peggy converted to Judaism. “That was her idea,” he said. “When we started talking about marriage, of course we started talking about children as anybody does, and about religion, and she said she would just as soon convert. We wanted to do it right.”

As a young couple living in the Pimlico area of Baltimore, the Holnikers longed for a home in the country. They bought several idyllic acres in Eldersburg around 1970 and spent three years building a grand Georgian Colonial home.

Peggy, who also earned her high school diploma through the GED program, received a 90-hour certificate in Early Childhood Education from Towson State College. So, with her background in education, Peggy, with Ken, saw their Eldersburg property as the perfect place to open a daycare enterprise. And in 1974, they started Children’s Farm Nursery, a private daycare center.

“I never had any intention of going into the daycare business,” Holniker said, “that was Peggy’s idea, but becoming certified myself in early childhood education was one of the best times I ever had in my life.” Today, the nursery still thrives on the upper floors of the home, and as Holniker recently made his way through the facility for the first time since his stroke, he was greeted with,“Hi, Mr. H,” from the center’s young children and their parents.

Further reaching out to children, the couple started Horses, Inc. on their farm to teach children equestrian skills.

In 1977, the Holnikers co-founded Beth Shalom Congregation of Carroll County, the first and only conservative Jewish synagogue in the county. Originally, services were held in the Holnikers’ home, but later, Ken and Peggy purchased land and offered it as the site for a synagogue, religious
school and cemetery.

“Ken set Beth Shalom on solid footing by locating land and helping to erect the current building,” said the synagogue’s Rabbi, Amy Scheinerman. “Peggy lent her enthusiastic support to the community and, with Ken and Peggy’s help and leadership, the congregation flourished. “Beth Shalom has been an important accomplishment in Ken’s life, one among many impressive contributions to the life and community of Carroll County.”

During their marriage, while raising two children – Stephen and Scott- -Peggy was active in the community. She was a member of the Carroll County Public Library Board of Library Trustees for over 12 years, president of the Freedom District Business Association, and a member of the Carroll County League of Women Voters.

In 1983, the same year that a multipurpose room at the Eldersburg Public Library was dedicated in her name, Peggy received a citation for public service from then-mayor of Baltimore, William Donald Schaefer.

Over the years, Holniker has used his skills and position as an attorney to create programs benefiting the community. He served on several boards, including the Carroll County Liquor Board. He was instrumental in chartering hospice programs in both Baltimore and Carroll counties – providing much of the legal work for both. His name has appeared on many an election ballot in Baltimore City and Carroll County – running most recently in the November 2002 election for the Maryland House of Delegates seat for District 9B.

Delegate Susan W. Krebs (R-MD), Ken’s victorious opponent in the 2002 race said, “I first met Ken Holniker when my daughter took horseback riding lessons at Holniker Farms about 10 years ago. I got to know him better when I was a PTA member and we both were seeking adequate schools for our growing community. While we don’t agree politically on many of the issues, I consider Ken Holniker a friend and a gentleman. He has been a longtime advocate for South CarrollÉ and it was a pleasure to have him as my opposition.”

In their political activism and community outreach, Ken and Peggy were a force with which to be reckoned. Holniker describes the couple’s home in the 1980s as “an open forum” – the site of many social gatherings and political rallies. “I had 500 people here at one time when [William Donald] Schaefer ran first time for Governor,” Holniker remembered. “I knew Schaefer because we once had offices on the same floor and he used to go get me coffee. I remind him of that every time I see him.”

“He has always been a spirited man, interested in politics,” said State Comptroller William Donald Schaefer. “When he had a party, he not only had a party, but he had voters. He understood that you needed money, but that you also needed people to vote for you. É He is a good man and I liked his wife. She was just a nice woman. É He has always been a man I call a good friend – a good guy, just a good guy.”

The political ties ran deep for the couple. “An endorsement by Peggy in a political race was the legitimacy [a candidate] needed,” said Holniker. “And you could ask almost any one of the County Commissioners we’ve had here. They’ll tell you they couldn’t say Ôno’ to Peggy. She always got money for the libraryÉ and always raised money for charity.”

For a woman who brought so much joy to a man who was clearly in awe of his wife’s verve and magnanimity, it is only fitting that, since her passing, Ken Holniker has honored Peggy’s memory through significant philanthropic initiatives.

“After Peggy died, I wanted to do something in her memory at the various places [where she was involved], at the library and so on,” Holniker said. “Someone suggested Carroll Community College as a fitting way for me to spend [Peggy’s life insurance] money to do something worthwhile. I thought it would be good for the community and something Peggy would have approved of.”

In 1994, Holniker established the M. Peggy Holniker Early Childhood Education Endowment Fund at Carroll Community College. In addition, he provides a scholarship to two Carroll County residents who are pursuing degrees or certification in Early Childhood Education. He has also named Carroll Community College as a beneficiary of his life insurance policy. In 1997, Carroll Community College, in turn, honored the Holnikers by dedicating the College’s Early Learning Center to them.

Today, Ken Holniker looks as dapper and distinguished in a gray pinstripe suit and elegantly knotted tie as he did on the 1962 campaign poster he has in his home. His hair is now a shock of white, though, and hi demeanor is sentimental, his thoughts dwell on what he and his late wife have accomplished – the breadth of their legacy.

He is preparing to leave the home he shared with Peggy to move in with one of his sons. The farm is sold – together with the nursery and the horses. He is simplifying his life somewhat, although he looks forward with excitement to opening a new law office in Westminster in the coming months.

In a voice a bit hoarse with emotion, Ken Holniker states that he would like to be remembered as “a person with a heart; a person who tried to help people live in a world that can be hard and cruel at times; and as a person willing to give others a voice and a helping hand.”