Stitzlein retiring from HCEF after 3 decades in education

Stitzlein retiring from HCEF after 3 decades in education

Holmes County Education Foundation executive director Darla Stitzlein, pictured at right with a group of scholarship recipients from Hiland High School, has been an integral part of creating more than $8 million in scholarships. Stitzlein recently announced she will retire from a job she has poured herself into for 22 years.


With the state seeing changes in the education system today, so too will there be changes at the Holmes County Education Foundation. Longtime director Darla Stitzlein announced her retirement plans recently and will make it official on July 31.

After 30 years in education, Stitzlein will retire from her position. She is a strong advocate of education at all levels, is a life-long learner herself and has held the position for the past 22 years.

Prior to coming to the foundation, Stitzlein obtained her bachelor’s degree in natural resources from the Ohio State University, and she worked in the wildlife and soil and water conservation education fields for eight years. She educated youth and adult hunters and landowners on wildlife conservation while working for the Ohio Division of Wildlife.

Stitzlein continued educating students, farmers and landowners during her years with the Holmes County Soil and Water Conservation District. She enjoyed coordinating the annual Tom Graham 5th Grade Farm Tour, teaching children about water quality at 4-H camps and outdoor education camps and assisting farmers with the design and installation of soil and water conservation practices to keep soils intact and waterways clean.

Stitzlein's career took a different path when she was hired by the foundation in 1999. She was ready to do something different, and directing the Holmes County Education Foundation was the right fit. She recalls Terri Loder was a great mentor to her. Loder had served as the part-time scholarship program consultant and was instrumental in developing the program along with the original board of trustees. Loder wanted to be more involved with the family businesses, which led to the need to hire a full-time executive director.

John Waltman, chairman of the board, is a founding trustee and was one of the four board members that hired Stitzlein.

“Darla oversaw the gift of the Cary House to the foundation and its complete historic renovation,” Waltman said. “She was responsible for the foundation’s growth from $6.5 million to the present $14 million in assets and the growth of eight endowed scholarship funds to the current list of 70 endowed scholarship funds. In addition, Darla has been responsible for awarding $8.5 million in scholarships to more than 1,800 students of Holmes County.

“Darla had good rapport with our scholarship fund donors and prospective donors. She also initiated our planned giving society and worked closely with legal and tax professionals to promote estate planning that included the foundation. We have been truly blessed to have an executive director like Darla guiding this foundation for 22 years.”

In addition, Waltman said the board hopes to have a new director in place later this spring so that person has the opportunity to learn from Stitzlein prior to her retirement.

Stitzlein worked closely with former scholarship recipient Tracy (Rose) Reiheld. Reiheld obtained her bachelor’s degree in finance from Kent State University and currently serves as deposit operations manager and assistant vice president for the Killbuck Savings Bank.

Reiheld said, “I remember the day I met Darla when she came to my high school. She offered me help in affording college, and that was a complete life-changer for me. I could have ended up completely different, and I am forever grateful to Darla and the Holmes County Education Foundation for their investment in me.”

Not wanting to exclude the Amish population and their needs of further education, Stitzlein was tasked with establishing the Amish Vocational Training Program. With assistance from former OSU Extension agent Dean Slates and the late instructor John Roberts, the trio met with the Amish Extension Advisory Council and developed a needs assessment. It was determined vocational classes for the Amish community were wanted and needed.

This program ran for 14 years, and 160 students benefited from the classes, which included welding and fabrication, engine repair, antique tractor restoration, bookkeeping, and keyboarding and introduction to computers. It was recognized as a unique program across the United States.

Another program Stitzlein spearheaded was the Holmes County College Access Program. She secured grant funding to run the program for 10 years. Access advisors assisted the high school guidance counselors by meeting with students who needed additional assistance in the college-going process. Students received help on college and career choices, applying to college, and securing financial aid to pay for college.

Adult students also benefited from the program services. Coordinating the annual county college fair and the ACT Test workshops were other aspects of the college-access program.

Stitzlein also helped to develop the professional-development grant program for public service agencies and nonprofits in Holmes County. These grants serve the county as a whole and allow these professionals to meet changing community needs.

Stitzlein partnered with former OSU Extension 4-H agent Dona Roberts and introduced the Real Money, Real World Financial Literacy program to Holmes County middle school students.

Stitzlein served on the Wayne College advisory committee and partnered with their administration on developing the Senior Series program, which provided personal enrichment classes for the senior citizens of Holmes County.

Leah Miller, former Holmes County commissioner, has known Stitzlein since she began working in Holmes County in 1990. Miller said, “Darla commits 100% to what she undertakes, and we have benefited from that focus. She learned the value of hard work and importance of community engagement from her parents growing up in Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio. She brought those lessons to the Holmes County Soil and Water Conservation District and later to the Holmes County Education Foundation.

"She has honed her leadership skills through her work and community involvement. A number of community organizations have grown from her leadership and commitment to making Holmes County a better place to learn, live, work and play."

According to Miller, Stitzlein doesn’t wait for someone else to do a job. She looks for a way to do whatever needs to be done, whether with the foundation or the Millersburg Rotary Club.

When reflecting on a career of helping others, Stitzlein said, “I am grateful for the opportunities this position has given to me and for the many friendships I have developed over the years with the students, staff, trustees, donors, volunteers and community members. I especially enjoyed working in the beautifully restored Cary House.

“As I reflect on my time with the foundation, I see that a lot of good has been accomplished. I could not have done this without my faith, the support of family and friends, excellent staff and volunteers over the years, the leadership of my trustees and advisors, the investment of our donors and investment managers, the determination of our students, and my fellow colleagues. I am so proud of so many of these students that overcame obstacles and excelled.”

In retirement Stitzlein plans to spend more time with her family, traveling and exploring new places, enjoying hobbies, and volunteering.

“I know the foundation will continue to play a vital role in the future of Holmes County and its students. I will do whatever I can to make the transition a smooth and successful one,” Stitzlein said.

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