BY KIM HASTY
Sometimes, and quite possibly more often in this particular time in history, simply making it through the day feels like a
supreme accomplishment. Taking care of ourselves, our own families, our own homes feels like a pretty full plate.
All of which makes the five people we have selected to profile on the following pages that much more remarkable. For years, they have made a difference in our community and in the lives of others, finding ways to give of their time, talent and treasure despite active lives of their
Dec. 1 is the date for this year’s Giving Tuesday, a global initiative that encourages people to do good. The event, now in its ninth year, helps ensure that every act of generosity, no matter how large and small, makes our community better.
This year, Cumberland Community Foundation has generously offered to match up to $100,000 of donations it receives between Nov. 24 and Dec. 3. Take a look at some of the ways the givers in this issue have chosen to make a difference.
Then go to www.cumberlandcf.org to learn more.
LINDA AND RALPH HUFF- AN “AWESOME” LEGACY
She may not have been old enough to understand the meaning of the word at the time, but Brooke Huff Johnson learned early on that her parents were firm believers in stewardship.
“When my sister Molly and I were little, they had us fill out our own little pledge cards at church,” she said. “That was my earliest memory of their generosity, that they stressed the importance of giving at church.” All these years later, Johnson and her sister, Molly Huff Alderman, are mothers themselves. And now they can look out over the landscape of this community with young Hardy and Emmy Johnson and young Wells,
Baker and Sally Alderman and point out all the ways the children’s grandparents, have made a difference.
“It is kind of awesome,” Johnson said, “to see that kind of legacy.”
Already, the legacy of generosity, philanthropy and vision that Linda and Ralph Huff have carved into this community and beyond is incomparable. They were instrumental in the construction of Segra Stadium, home of the minor league Fayetteville Woodpeckers, and in many other projects that have led to a thriving downtown.
You can see their contributions in Huff Concert Hall on the campus of Linda’s alma mater, Methodist University, where she serves on the Board of Trustees. They’ve been major contributors to the Cape Fear Botanical Garden and Linear Park and served as co-chairs of the Linda Lee Allan Legacy Fund on behalf of the Greater Fayetteville Chamber that raised $2 million for economic community development.
They led a two-year effort to honor Mary Archie McNeil, a Hoke County teacher who was a mentor to both of them, raising $75,000 for an endowment for the choral arts program in Hoke County.
They recently completed the sale of the business that started it all, H&H Homes, closing one of the most significant chapters in their lives. The sale frees the Huffs to take on other projects. It also leaves Linda Huff a little teary.
“I don’t think I’ve cried as much because of the sale as because that chapter of my life is over,” she said. “It has enabled me to meet people from all walks of life who are dear friends of mine.”
Linda Huff was a schoolteacher when her husband convinced her to take over running H&H in the early 1990s while he focused on real estate. H&H had plenty of construction business at the time but wasn’t making enough profit. Linda took over, used the organizational prowess and communication skills she’d honed in the classroom and profits and growth followed. The company now operates in 10 markets throughout the Carolinas and has built over 9,000 homes with another 1,000 scheduled to be completed by the end of this year.
That success and Ralph Huff ’s success with other ventures, including Coldwell Banker, was the impetus for their contributions to meaningful causes. Huff bought the Coldwell Banker franchise from Murray Duggins in 1991. He and Suzanne Pennink currently are coowners and are now part of a North Carolina franchise – Coldwell Banker Advantage – with offices in multiple cities “I think Ralph has been the catalyst when it comes to giving,” Linda Huff said.
“He always sees the broader picture. But we both truly feel that the more you give the more you receive.”
Both Huffs came from humble Hoke County beginnings. Ralph is the oldest of five brothers, all who grew up on a farm between Raeford and Aberdeen. Linda is the daughter of a tobacco farmer and homemaker mother in Raeford.
They were married on Aug. 12, 1972 but were sweethearts long before that.
“She was in the seventh grade, and I was in the ninth grade,” Ralph Huff said. “We had recreation in the summer at the school. I came down a flight of steps from the gym and saw her playing Ping-Pong. That’s the first time I saw her, and I’ve been in love with her ever since.”
As they start a new chapter in their life, they can look back with satisfaction on the example of generosity they set for their family and their community. “My parents have given to so many local causes,” Brooke Huff Johnson said. “They have been very, very good at sharing their success.”
Ellen Parker was in first grade on Dec. 7, 1941 when Pearl Harbor was bombed during World War II. D-Day made an indelible impression on her.
“Everybody was out walking on the streets and talking about war bonds,” she said. “I remember wanting to buy war bond stamps to help. I guess that kind of got me started thinking that there is always something you can do to get involved.”
That experience sparked a lifetime of giving back including a career as a high school guidance counselor. She and her late husband Davis established endowments through Cumberland Community Foundation. She is a devoted member of Galatian Presbyterian Church, as was Davis Parker until his death in 2003.
Her most recent endowment was in memory of her daughter, Karen Parker Allen, a mother of nine who died in 2016 at age 55 after a five-year battle with Stage 4 colon cancer.
“She was a really good mom,” Ellen Parker said of her daughter. “She was the kind of mom where the Christmas tree didn’t have to be straight or perfect. Everyone was able to participate.”
Ellen Parker was able to step in when her daughter was sick, help care for her children and spend time helping them have fun despite their concern for their mother.
But Ellen Parker knows that not all mothers have help like that.
That’s why Ellen Parker’s endowment in memory of her daughter goes to help mothers who have been diagnosed with cancer have the chance to enjoy activities with their children.
In helping others, it helps her cope with her own grief.
“For me, just going a little bit out of your way makes a big difference,” she said.
Parents and schoolchildren alike know that veteran educator Myrtle Alston Summers is always in charge when it comes to her classroom. That’s what decades of experience will do for you.
But Summers remembers what it was like to be a first-year teacher and a little uncertain. And she’ll never forget those who stepped in to help her. That’s why she established an endowment through Cumberland Community Foundation to help first-year teachers buy classroom supplies at T.C. Berrien Elementary, where she did her student teaching.
“When I started out, Laurie Bondshu and Nancy Holt took me under their wing,” she said of the longtime educators, who have both since passed. “They gave me a wealth of materials, made sure I had everything I needed.
“They were so giving to me,” she said. “This is my way of giving back.”
Summers first learned about Cumberland Community Foundation and its executive director, Mary Holmes, from her husband, Joe.
“He was always talking about the great things they were doing in the community,” she said. “Joe just believed in that philosophy of giving back to the community.”
He so believed in giving back that when his wife was helping tutor children in need after school, he arranged for them all to dress up and go out to eat at a restaurant.
“We got permission from their parents and Joe paid for it,” she said. “Those children dressed up like they were going to church. And they all decided they wanted to bring some of their food home to their parents.”
Joe Summers died in 2009, but his legacy of generosity lives on. His wife serves on the board of directors for Cumberland Community Foundation and now will be able to see to it that each year, a teacher just starting out at T.C. Berrien will have what she needs to make each child feel special.
“You don’t want a child showing up for the first day of school without anything on the desk,” Summers said. “Teachers are not wealthy, but they spend a lot of their own money.”
JIMMY MAHER- HOPE WITH A HELPING OF GOOD HUMOR
Maybe it’s that enduring Irish accent, that self-deprecating sense of humor or a face that just seems to epitomize friendliness. Or some combination of the three.
But everyone likes Jimmy Maher. “Ha,” he says. “My wife will tell you different.”
The affable Maher has been a favorite of young soccer players and their families for years. He first came to the United States from Ireland in 1987 as a soccer-playing exchange student at Fayetteville Academy. He and fellow soccer players Paddy Gibney and Justin Carey lived with the late Dr. Bill Jordan, who made sure they all graduated from Methodist University.
Maher would go on to become a beloved soccer coach at Fayetteville Academy He was instrumental in developing the soccer program at Jordan Soccer Complex, named in Dr. Jordan’s honor, and devotes great chunks of his time helping youngsters improve. For families coping with the anguish of addiction, however, there’s something else that’s comforting about Jimmy Maher: He’s been there.
“Addiction snuck up on me,” he said. “I lost who I was.”
He says everyone is different, but fancy rehab facilities didn’t work for him. Neither did the sort of short-term programs that often hold themselves out to be panaceas. “Addiction is a complex problem,” he said. “It can’t be fixed in 30 days. I tried to fix myself for a long time in my addiction.”
He finally found the answer that worked for him in a faith-based, no-frills residential program in Florida. Once he was there, something clicked. “Certainly, it was a culture shock,” he said. “It was the first time I ever opened a Bible. I had a lightbulb moment. I hadn’t realized how lucky I was. When I couldn’t love myself, there were people who loved me.”
These days, Maher holds the busy position of corporate director of outreach for Cape Fear Valley Health System. And he’s back at Fayetteville Academy, this time as assistant soccer coach.
But if you’re a parent, and you call him, and he isn’t able to answer his phone, he never, ever fails to call you back. He understands, and he’s always willing to try his best to help.
He has helped many a troubled young person, often through the program that helped him. One mother remembers watching as the taillights pulled out of her driveway at 5 a.m. as Maher embarked on the 10-hour drive with her son in the passenger seat. It took time, but her son has done well for four years now.
“We were at wit’s end,” she said. “I give God the glory, but Jimmy was the angel who came and rescued us. I don’t know another person who devotes as much of their life to other people as Jimmy does. “I can’t say enough good things about him,” she said. “He’s one in a million.”
Maher asks for nothing in return from anyone. “For selfish reasons, I help people,” he said. “Because it helps me.” Maher came from a close-knit family, but said he was nevertheless rebellious as a boy.
“I was always going to do things my way,” he said. His talent and personality opened doors for him, won friends for him easily. But he nearly lost it all. “You don’t have a drug problem,” they told him when he finally got help. “You have a character problem.”
Instead of hiding his experience with addiction, Maher chooses to share his story in hopes of helping others. It’s possible, it seems, that more people would get help if those in recovery were willing, like Maher, to share their stories and offer to help. To foster an open forum.
“A lot of people want to run from it,” he said. “I’m not someone who says I’m glad I went through it, but the fact is, I did go through it. I try to use it for good. “I want people to know there is hope, and that addicts can recover and go on to be great husbands and fathers,” he said. “I’m glad to talk to people and try to help. There are people who helped me.”
Still, he doesn’t take credit for the success stories he’s inspired. “If I’m going to take credit for helping, then I’ve got to accept the burden for the ones who don’t make it,” he said. “I’m not strong enough for that.”