GUARDIANS OF THE COMMUNITY | September-October 2017

GUARDIANS OF THE COMMUNITY

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES

GUARDIANS OF THE COMMUNITY

The Greater Salisbury Committee celebrates 50 years of dedicated service to its beloved city

Telling the story of the Greater Salisbury Committee — which was started in 1967 and is now enjoying its 50th year of service as a catalyst in and around the Eastern Shore’s largest city — is, in some ways, no easy task. That’s because, quite simply, there’s much to tell about this nonprofit member organization, given all it’s done to help alter the landscape of the Lower Shore. On another level, though, this story is an easy one, especially if we start at the beginning, on Day One, and work forward. 

Turn back the clock to 1967. Let’s see GSC the way it was on the very first day it sprang to life, as seen through the eyes of GSC’s first-ever executive director, the now-90-years-young Bob Cook. It’s a fun start.


DAY ONE

“I had driven down here from Newark [Delaware], where my family and I were then living,” Cook recalled. “I went and met with 10 of the guys who’d decided to start GSC. I met them at the office of Lewis Hess, then the president of Hess Apparel. The guys told me to head down to One Plaza East, to go ‘pick out an office.’ At that time, One Plaza East was transitioning from the old Wicomico Hotel into an office complex. So, I go down and head up the elevator, and I run into a man who was doing some work on the place, and I asked him: ‘Are you the janitor?’ The man turned around and told me, ‘No, I’m Bill Morgan, and I own this place.’” Bill Morgan was the scion of the Morgan family (and the father-in-law of Richard Hazel), a family that has done so much for the community of Salisbury over the years, via their [then] ownership in the Pepsi Bottling Company. 

Bob Cook picked out an office, and GSC was off and running. In the beginning, Cook’s job was to turn the vision of the men who started GSC into a reality. The vision: Take the ideas and resources of the businessmen who started GSC and put GSC in a position to make Salisbury, and the surrounding area, a better place to live and do business. From the beginning, GSC was a nonprofit, dues-paying membership organization whose mission was to identify the challenges and problems facing Salisbury and the surrounding area, and to offer solutions to those challenges. Nothing to it, right?

“We had two deadlines we established early on at GSC. We had a three-month deadline and a three-year deadline,” Cook said. “Our early goals: establish the office of Salisbury Wicomico Economic Development (SWED); present plans to build a joint city/county government office building; help in the creation of the Holly Center. Well, we did them pretty quickly.” With those successes, GSC was on its way. The three-year deadline, the “shut it down or continue GSC” one (as defined by the 25 to 30 members of GSC who were instrumental in getting the group off the ground) came and went. GSC wasn’t going anywhere. “It’s funny,” Cook recalls fondly, “at our first meeting, at One Plaza East, I’d had to borrow some old chairs and tables from the Wicomico Hotel. We had about 15 people there. Frank Perdue was one of them. He sat down in one of those old chairs, and it broke. Frank then turned to the group and to me, and said, “If you can’t get some decent chairs, I’m not coming to any more of these meetings.” Decent chairs were found for the second meeting. GSC was off and running.


WHAT CAME NEXT?

GSC did next what it had planned to do all along: make an impact on the community. The concept for GSC was not an original one. The men who formed GSC got the idea to bring it here after visiting the Greater Baltimore Committee. They learned about the concept: company owners, CEOs, presidents of companies and large community entities coming together, collectively, as community influencers to make a difference. They thought it could work here, too. The most successful Salisbury businessmen of their time would meet once a month and form working groups — committees, if you will — and set about identifying what the community might need. Once identified, the proverbial hat was passed and the work got done.

GSC was instrumental in the creation of Wor-Wic Community College, the Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore (CFES), the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island (MARS), the aforementioned Salisbury Wicomico Economic Development office (SWED), Salisbury Neighborhood Housing Services (SNHS), the Delmarva Water Transport Committee (DWTC), and Holly Center. It also brought Junior Achievement of the Eastern Shore to the Lower Shore. That’s a breathtaking and impressive list of accomplishments, and it’s an even bigger and more impressive list of organizations and entities.

GSC has had only three executive directors in its 50-year history: Bob Cook, Luis Luna, and the late Jan Wiseman. In January 2016, Mike Dunn became the first-ever president and CEO of GSC. Over the years, GSC has, for many, been a bit of a conundrum. “GSC has unquestionably done amazing things for this community over the years,” said Greg Bassett, editor of the Salisbury Independent, and a man with over 30 years’ experience covering Salisbury. “But to many in the community, GSC was also this organization that people had heard of, for sure, yet because the public seemed to think that it did things behind closed doors…there’s always been this air of mystery to it.” Bassett has often, in a good-natured way, described GSC as the Salisbury House of Lords. For the record, Bassett is now a member of GSC and is regularly at its monthly business roundtable discussion, another staple of GSC, where the standing guests are County Executive Bob Culver, County Council President John Cannon, Salisbury Mayor Jake Day and Salisbury City Council President Jack Heath.


GSC TODAY

Under the leadership of Dunn, GSC has taken a decidedly more open approach to the way it’s going about its mission. It has a Facebook page. It has a new website. It keeps the massive doors to its conference room (located in the GSC building, in the heart of the Downtown Salisbury plaza) open at all times. “In the first week on the job, I literally took a doorstop and propped open one of those conference-room doors. It’s the first thing I do every day. I prop open that door. It was time to lift the perception that GSC did things behind closed doors,” Dunn said. “Our approach today is a very collaborative one. It has to be.” The GSC of today, Dunn says, is all about collaboration and openness, with all of its community partners. “We accomplish nothing alone,” he said.

As evidence, Dunn cites some of the initiatives GSC is currently undertaking: A study of the Wicomico Revenue Cap, done in conjunction with BEACON at Salisbury University; the Transformational Community Leadership Series, done in conjunction with the Center for Extended and Lifelong Learning at SU; the Lower Shore Wind initiative, which was launched as a way to bring the Lower Shore into the Offshore wind jobs game (on that, GSC partners with the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce, SWED, and other private entities); the GSC Summer Jobs Program, where GSC partners with Junior Achievement of the Eastern Shore, Wicomico County and the city of Salisbury; Water 4 Flint, an initiative GSC was involved with in 2016, via a partnership with the two Salisbury men who organized it, Jermichael Mitchell and Mandel Copeland, and the Arthur W. Perdue Foundation; the creation of a Foundation for Wicomico County Public Schools, another partnership with the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce; and the Youth Development Advisory Committee (YDAC), an idea that GSC was instrumental in creating and developing with the full assistance of Mayor Day.

GSC is a more diverse group than it’s ever been. While it may have been started by a group of men 50 years ago, it has long since been anything but a man-only organization. It works closely with so many different groups in the area, on a daily and weekly basis. “I say all the time that going to work at GSC is like sitting at a really interesting intersection,” Dunn said. “It’s a place where ideas, resources, challenges and solutions come together. Every day. It’s exciting.” Mayor Day, who knows a thing or two about generating ideas and solving problems, sums it up nicely: “GSC is a great community partner for Salisbury, for Wicomico County, and for the Lower Shore. Its members have made some amazing things happen over the last 50 years. I know I’m one of many people in this community who are thankful that GSC is right here in the center of this town — ready and willing to do what’s needed to move the ball forward in this place we call home.”

It’s all about legacy and community at GSC. So far, from such humble beginnings, GSC has proven to be the kind of asset that its founders thought it could be. Fifty years strong… with much more to come.

 


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