Photographed above: Lynn Wheeler
Lynn Wheeler: Out of the Spotlight but Still on the Stage
Former library head shows what it means to ‘give our best always’
by Kim Byrnes photography by Nikola Tzenov
Lynn Wheeler knows what it’s like to be in the spotlight. Several years ago, in what may have been the prime of her professional career, she was managing Carroll County’s public library system, including six physical locations and mobile programs. During her time as the library’s director, the organization introduced Battle of the Books, built the Finksburg branch — the first “green” building in the county, started work on Exploration Commons in Westminster and introduced countless unique and innovative programs, including those featuring drones, virtual and augmented reality, geocaching and 3-D printing.
But her success in managing the library system and the fact that her efforts touched nearly everyone in Carroll County in some way is not what led to her being named this year’s Person of the Year.
While Lynn retired from the library system in 2019, she did not retire from her commitment to being a positive force for so many in the county. She has remained steadfast in her dedication to giving time and energy and expertise to local organizations, initiatives and projects. She may have hung up her library director card, but she did not slow down in terms of her commitment to Carroll County.
“I have been in love with this community since I came here in 2004,” she said. “People are so giving and kind and open to partnerships. People really try to work together. It’s one of the great attributes of this community. I’m happy to do what I can to be helpful. I don’t bring anything to the table except a desire to be helpful.”
Tucked into that simple statement is the reason Lynn was selected as this year’s Person of the Year. At a time when there seems to be a general feeling of divisiveness and people are frustrated and exhausted in the wake of COVID and economic woes, Lynn is the perfect example of the individual who is committed to building community, getting things accomplished, and helping to improve the lives of those who live and work in Carroll County. She does it without fanfare, and according to those who work with her, she does it with a gracious and enthusiastic spirit. She has no qualms with being one spoke in the wheel, and without all those spokes doing their part, there is no wheel.
Mike McMullin, president of the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, has worked with Lynn in varying capacities for more than a decade. “In the 12 years I’ve been president of the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, there has been a small group of people I have been able to turn to for help, guidance and encouragement. Lynn is in that group,” McMullin said. “She should be ‘Person of the Decade.’”
The early years
Lynn grew up in Timonium with a sister. Her mother died when she was young, and eventually her father remarried and she became part of a “fabulous blended family for 30 years.” She earned her degree in English from the University of Great Falls in Montana and then returned to Maryland, where she earned a master’s in library science from University of Maryland.
Her career brought her to the Carroll County Public Library system in 2004 when she was hired as the director. Shortly after she started working in Carroll County, she moved to Finksburg with her husband, Jerry, and it remains their home today.
The leader and the ‘Everyman’
“I represent that ‘Everyman,’ I am just one of the important spokes in the wheel that make it turn,” Lynn said.
She currently serves as the chair of the board of directors of the Historical Society of Carroll County. On that board, she chairs the Program Committee and co-chairs the gala event. She is also chair of the board of the Carroll County Arts Council.
Serving on a board requires intimate knowledge of an organization — its mission, strengths and weaknesses, and finances. It often means serving on committees, networking, attending events and promoting the organization’s work in the community. It’s a lot of work at the best of times, and serving on a board during times of leadership transition, strategic shifts or turmoil requires the board of directors to spend a tremendous amount of time and energy in supporting and steering the organization. Both the Historical Society and Arts Council have gone through leadership transitions in the last couple of years — both organizations have new executive directors at the helm — and both have had to find ways to provide programs and services through the pandemic.
“It was a constant conversation around ‘How do we keep the doors open and keep moving forward?’” Lynn said. “It’s been really hard having to put together virtual events and to deal with keeping organizations moving ahead during COVID.”
Reflective of her positive attitude and can-do spirit, Lynn was able to find the positives coming out of COVID.
“It amazes me what you can pull off as a team. When COVID hit, we had to re-imagine how these [organizations] provided services, and that was exciting to see,” Lynn said. “A virtual PEEPshow and virtual galas, it was exciting to see how everyone came together to find a way to move forward.”
Maybe it’s from spending so much time in the quiet of a library, or just a skill she’s developed as a strong leader, but part of what makes her an excellent collaborator is that she is able to observe and listen first, then process, then share her insights.
“I love the idea of each person giving a little time and energy in an effort to help everyone succeed,” Lynn said. “Sure you deal with tough stuff — changing leadership and financial challenges and people having debates about what direction is best — but in the end, it’s an amazing process of people working together for a common cause.”
Her leadership on the boards of the Arts Council and Historical Society during turbulent times certainly made a difference in the organizations’ ability to find their way through the storm.
“She has been instrumental in our success navigating the leadership transitions and pandemic-induced challenges of the last year,” said Arts Council Executive Director Lynne Griffith. “Her positive leadership, collaborative attitude, and enthusiastic participation is infectious: She makes us all want to give our best always.”
In addition to the Arts Council and Historical Society, Lynn also serves as a co-vice president of the GFWC Woman’s Club of Westminster and is the secretary-treasurer for an organization that supports two Baltimore County churches. She is also on the board of the Maryland State Library Agency.
A legacy of ‘firsts’
Carroll County saw several firsts, thanks to Lynn’s efforts with the library system. In addition to the county’s first “green” building in the Finksburg branch, her leadership brought Battle of the Books — a county-wide competitive reading program that has excited and engaged thousands of children; digital access to our library system and its offerings; and Exploration Commons, with its cutting-edge facilities, labs and programming.
While she’s no longer driving the car, she is still playing a vital role in moving Carroll County forward. Lynn served on the steering committee of the inaugural Carroll County Women’s Conference this fall. The sold-out event, in the making for several years but repeatedly disrupted by COVID, came to fruition in October when women gathered to learn, discuss important issues and network at McDaniel College.
Coleen Kramer Beal, a financial advisor with Velnoskey Wealth Management, helped conceive of the idea and worked with a steering committee to plan and execute the event, which is already in the planning stages for next year. She is well aware of Lynn’s influence.
“[Lynn’s] name comes up with almost everything I touch in the community,” Kramer Beal said.
“Lynn brings so much to the table as a team player: meaningful connections, organization, and a willingness to work in just about every capacity a team might need a helping hand,” Kramer Beal said. “And she always engages with such a calm, positive attitude. There were several points during our conference when we were derailed by COVID — for nearly three years — that I was so disappointed. She just dusted off the challenges, lifted me up and encouraged me to keep rolling.”
History of service
Lynn has a long history of service to the community. In the past she has served on the boards of Human Services Programs of Carroll County, the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce and Partnership for a Healthier Carroll County. And she has been recognized for her service — she was a recipient of the Citizens for Maryland Libraries Satterthwaite Award for outstanding service, the Carroll County Human Relations Commission Award for service to the community, and she was named Philanthropist of the Year in 2018 by the Community Foundation of Carroll County.
Her peers were not surprised to learn that she was named Carroll Magazine’s Person of the Year for 2022.
Jim Shriver III, treasurer of the Union Mills Homestead Foundation, has served with Lynn on the board of the Historical Society for several years. “An outstanding choice, as Lynn has demonstrated a strong commitment to the community in Carroll County through volunteer efforts and sharing of her time and talents.”
Kramer Beal said she is thrilled to see Lynn get the recognition.
“She is a meaningful part of many groups and organizations making a huge difference in our community, and it’s not just to keep busy in retirement,” Kramer Beal said. “She sincerely cares about our community and its people. It’s wonderful to see someone who has her finger on the pulse of our community being acknowledged for her caring and contributions.”
Beyond the volunteer
Lynn has been with her husband Jerry for 41 years. She recalls fondly that prior to the pandemic, he represented Maryland in the National Senior Games in Albuquerque, where he competed in tennis in the 85-90 division. She said that over the years, she and Jerry enjoyed bike riding and they took many bike trips in the U.S. and Europe. Jerry, 17 years Lynn’s senior, is now 91. She said that with the help of COVID and its related disruptions, they are slowing down.
“Jerry and I celebrate a fabulous 41 years together,” Lynn said with a smile. “We had season tickets to the O’s for many years. Now we enjoy baseball on TV. In retirement, we hope to visit more presidential libraries — so far we’ve been to FDR’s in Hyde Park and JFK’s in Boston.”
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Lynn is an avid reader, nor that she belongs to two book clubs. Last year she was on an adult Battle of the Books team with friends Ted Zaleski, Annette Danek, Chris Winebrenner and Lory Hierstetter. She said it was a lot of work, but great fun. Her favorite book from the event was Born a Crime by Trevor Noah.
Part of Lynn’s appeal — what surely helped her find success in her years at the library, and what draws people to her still today — is that she is endlessly kind and humble. She works hard to shine the light on others, and while she is capable of being the center of attention and carrying the room, she does not require it, nor even want it, in order for her to be engaged and effective. She gives of her time and expertise because she sees the value of everyone giving what they can for the greater good, and because it just feels good to be a positive force in the lives of others.
At a time when communities are feeling divided and it seems harder to find common ground on which to agree, we would all benefit from striving to be a little more like Lynn, who generally aims to see the good in most people, and is gifted at finding common ground.
“While I have done what I could, with my limited skill set and resources, to help strengthen the fabric of the community, I fully recognize the tremendous energy and effort going on in the community every day to make Carroll County a great place to live,” Lynn said. “Parents coaching sports teams (and Battle of the Books teams); church members maintaining soup kitchens; people volunteering at the hospital and fire departments; people fully engaged in Rotary, Kiwanis and other service clubs to help their community, and the list goes on.
“I am very fortunate indeed to live in a community of givers. It is a great blessing to watch these people in action. I’m glad I can play a small role in helping out.”