(Posted Nov. 1, 2020)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
A changing of the guard is in the works at the Mount Sterling Community Center.
Annie Tomlinson, who has been involved with the center since its start in 2002, is retiring as director on Nov. 25. Her successor, Megan Witteman, is learning the ropes over the next several weeks.
“Annie grew this place. This is her baby. I tell her all the time that I have big shoes to fill and she can’t go very far. I have her on speed dial,” Witteman said.
When the Community Center got its start at 40 N. London St., currently home to an H&R Block office, Tomlinson was there. When the center outgrew that space and moved into a newly constructed building in 2007 at 164 E. Main St., Tomlinson was there.
It all started when First United Methodist Church of Mount Sterling, of which Tomlinson is a member, wanted to create a space for area residents to gather. The church moved its food pantry into the center and soon after began adding programs, including tutoring, after-school activities, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and sewing classes.
The effort morphed into a faith-based non-profit with a board of directors and major support coming from multiple churches, businesses, organizations and individuals. Tomlinson, a regular volunteer with the food pantry and other facets of the center, became the director in December 2007.
“I had been involved from the beginning and was familiar with the programs and activities, and I love to serve people. I wanted to serve the community,” Tomlinson said about her reasons for taking on the leadership role.
Since then, the center has added exercise classes, open gyms, a summer lunch program, and a produce market, along with special holiday events, including Independence Day celebrations complete with laser light shows, community Easter egg hunts, and Christmas in the Village. Educational and cultural programming has been part of the growth, too.
“Our mission statement talks about bringing opportunities to people in the community to enrich their quality of life,” Tomlinson said. “With every thank-you letter I send, I include that line.”
She sees the center’s approach to serving others as wholistic. She sees the center itself as “a safe place and a happy place.” And she credits devoted volunteers for making it that way.
“All the activities, programs and events would never have occurred without the wonderful volunteers we have. They are hardworking, kind, happy people to work with,” Tomlinson said.
She also credits strong partnerships with other organizations for expanding the center’s reach.
“One of the biggest things I’ve been able to do is network with other county agencies and organizations which has allowed us to bring more services to people,” she said. Among those partners are Madison County Family Council and the Central Ohio Area Agency on Aging.
“Annie has just been an absolute gem,” said Lisa Schwartz, center board member. “She is a compassionate, caring individual. We wish her well in retirement. She deserves every bit of it.”
Tomlinson said it will be difficult to detach from the center, but she looks forward to spending more time with her husband, Mike, who retired this past year, and her 13 grandchildren. The pandemic has put some of her retirement plans on hold, but she’s still looking forward to new adventures. Meanwhile, she will keep her connection with the place to which she has dedicated so much time and talent for nearly the past two decades.
“I won’t walk away completely. I could never do that,” she said, noting that she will continue to volunteer with the center’s food pantry and other programs.
Tomlinson said she is leaving the center in good hands and looks forward to the energy and new ideas Witteman will bring to the job.
Witteman was born and raised in Mount Sterling. She grew up swimming at the community pool, playing softball behind the center, and working at Rapp’s Hardware. She graduated from Madison-Plains High School in 1998. Her grandmothers Georgia Scaggs and the late Barbara Barker have been among the center’s many volunteers.
“Everyone we interviewed for the position was local. We thought that was a very valuable asset to have–those ties to the community. Megan met all the qualifications,” said Brian Stroup, board chairman.
“Megan is a great find… She is over the top with her goals, and we can’t wait to see where she takes us,” Schwartz added.
For now, Witteman is getting her feet wet with guidance from Tomlinson and the volunteers. As safety regulations and health conditions permit, she will continue the work of reinstating programs put on hold due to the pandemic.
“We want to make sure everything gets back on track,” she said.
Witteman previously held positions with the Grove City Chamber of Commerce and YMCA boards. She has experience in organizing events and supporting local initiatives.
“When I heard about the opening at the community center, I thought it was a great opportunity. With my grandmas both having been here, I knew it was a big deal to them,” she said.
Witteman and her boyfriend, Rick, his son, Trenten, and her daughter, Morgan, moved back to the Mount Sterling area three years ago, and they are in the process of building a new home.