SPCC Gala Honorees Are Dedicated To Founders’ Mission

Part 3: Jeff Norris and John Strange

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In 2020, the Severna Park Community Center (SPCC) planned to honor Andy Borland, Mark Corneal, Carl Gutschick, Charlie Kreter, Lee Marston, Jeff Norris, Terry Schoener, John Strange and Joan Tiernan at the annual fundraising gala before it was canceled. These nine honorees are considered founding members of the SPCC and dedicated countless hours to establishing the community center that has served the community for over 25 years.

Norris and Strange were both members of Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church when they became involved with the SPCC.

Norris moved from Reston, Virginia, to Severna Park with his wife and children to be closer to the water. He joined Woods Church and wasn’t there long before members of the church explored the possibility of buying the YMCA.

“We were not very active in the church and then the community center came up,” he explained. “Terry Schoener asked some of us to go to a brainstorming session, and as Terry is one to do, he pretty soon reeled us in and got us committed to supporting the community center.”

Norris was asked to sit on the original board of directors for the SPCC. One of his main tasks was chairing the program committee, which sought activities that were welcoming for everyone in the community, not just Woods Church members, but that also aligned with the center’s Christian values.

“We were not exclusive,” said Norris. “Anybody could come, but we just wanted the programs to be something we could be proud of. We were very careful in selecting organizations that would rent from us.”

Some of the original programs included an after-school middle school program in the Holy Grounds building, Alcoholics Anonymous and other support organizations, and an intergenerational program where children would spend time with residents at Sunrise Senior Living on West McKinsey Road.

Norris served two terms on the board of directors before he turned his volunteer efforts to Woods Church. He has remained a supporter of the SPCC by attending events and fundraisers.

“I think it was a valuable investment of my time and effort, and I'm glad I did it,” said Norris. “I made some good friends there. I like seeing it active in the community.”

Norris said he is proud to have been a part of the team that worked so hard to bring the vision to life. He credits two people, specifically, with leading the project.

“I think anybody who enjoys the community center these days owes a debt of gratitude to Terry for his vision in seeing the possibilities for a vibrant community center,” said Norris. “I think they also owe a debt of gratitude to Barbara Birkenhower, who was the first executive director and who worked tirelessly to do the administrative responsibilities of the community center.”

John Strange is a partner at Council Baradel Attorneys at Law, located in Annapolis. He moved to Severna Park in the summer of 1986.

“I've always said living in Severna Park is like living in Camelot to me,” said Strange. “I mean, we have the library, we have the churches. You can do everything you want in Severna Park.”

Strange and his family became members of Woods Church, where they first heard about the possibility of the church buying the YMCA. Strange said that Mark Corneal and Charlie Kreter were the visionaries, and pitched the idea to Terry Schoener, the church’s minister. He pitched the idea to churchgoers, and they voted in favor of the purchase. Strange became involved in the initial purchasing to assist with paperwork from a legal standpoint.

The process began in the spring of 1995, and the date on the deed was October 2, 1995. Strange was amazed by how quickly the process went, especially because so many parties were interested in purchasing the property.

“There had to be some inspiration from God into this whole process because it worked,” said Strange. “It went relatively smoothly and quickly.”

He said the group involved in purchasing the SPCC was dedicated.

“I was very fortunate because it introduced me to many of the members of Woods Church, and Severna Park activists who were buying into this idea,” said Strange. “I was able to sit at the table with all these great individuals.”

Strange often drives by the SPCC on his commute to work. He said that he is proud to have played a part in the center’s creation, and that it is still true to the original mission years later.

“I can't believe it's been over 25 years,” said Strange. “And it did just come full circle; I was just asked to become a board member of a community center.”

Strange recently accepted the position on the board and is looking forward to working again with many of the people who established the SPCC.

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