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Leadership Columbus: Mary Ferdon

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Mary Ferdon, pictured Monday, June 2, 2014, is director of Volunteers in Medicine.
Mary Ferdon, pictured Monday, June 2, 2014, is director of Volunteers in Medicine.

Mary Ferdon

Born: Southern Illinois

Age: 53

When and why did you move to Columbus? I moved to Columbus 23 years ago, for my husband’s job with Cummins.

Occupation: Executive director, Volunteers in Medicine

Family: Husband, Steve Ferdon, chief engineer/director, fuel systems with Cummins; sons, Andrew, 24, and Sam, 21.

Community involvement: I was involved with the Columbus Board of Zoning Appeals for 17 years. I am involved in the Heritage Fund, Women’s Giving Circle, and I have been on about 12 disaster relief trips with the Asbury United Methodist Church. We went to Mississippi three times after Hurricane Katrina and to Texas after Hurricane Ike. The sad part about people that were relocated (after Katrina) is that a lot of them never went home because their jobs are gone and their homes are gone, so they end up staying where they are placed. We went to Iowa, Nashville and Florida with flooding and Tuscaloosa (Alabama) twice with tornadoes. We are going to Moore, Oklahoma, this summer, where they had the F5 tornado last year. We also did disaster relief for the flood here in 2008. It’s a great challenge, and it’s very rewarding to be able to help people get back on their feet when their luck is down. In the past we have taken a lot of youth, high school and college kids with us, and it’s a great growth experience for them. Those trips are how we teach leadership skills and challenge the kids to learn something and teach it to the next generation.

Hobbies: I like hiking and reading. Typically we like to go hiking out West, but locally we go to Brown County and also to Michigan.

● What was your first job?

My first job out of college was as a budget analyst with Washtenaw County in Michigan.

● What primary lessons did you learn from that job that have helped you today?

I learned to always keep asking questions. You are always looking for answers and better ways to do things, in order to make the best decisions.

● What are the biggest leadership lessons you’ve learned?

The first one is to surround yourself with good people, and the second is to give them all the resources you can. The third lesson is to get out of their way. We’ve all worked for micromanagers, and we know that it’s difficult to do your job when someone won’t give you the tools that you need or won’t let go of the controls.

● Do you have any memorable stories from earlier in your career?

Years ago, I was a clerk-treasurer for a city in Michigan, back before they let you use a signature stamp. I had to sign thousands of documents a month and had to hand-sign all of the paychecks. As a result, my handwriting got so bad and is still very bad, and I always say it’s because I had to sign my name so many times.

● How did you develop your leadership capabilities?

What I have done and the best advice I can give others is to find good role models, ask good questions and challenge yourself. Sherry Stark, the former CEO of Heritage Fund, has been a role model for me. She is an amazing woman who has since retired, but she has held leadership positions throughout Columbus, and everyone speaks highly of her.

● What are some of the lessons you have learned or examples that demonstrate the level of community involvement in Columbus?

What makes Columbus great is that so many people have been involved in leadership and played active roles in making decisions. Columbus is an exceptional community, and we owe a lot to former leaders who have been willing to take risks, look to the future and to a big vision. Volunteers in Medicine was created 20 years ago to provide health and medical services to people in Bartholomew County who are uninsured or underinsured. The mission of VIM is very appropriate in wanting to make sure that we welcome people and that, as a community, we want to make sure their needs are taken care of. So it really does fit the Columbus way of doing things. That goes back to the desire to make Columbus a really good place for people to live and work and take care of each other.

● What advice do you have for people who want to become more involved in the community?

Don’t wait for somebody to invite you, just jump in and follow your passion. There are always organizations that need your help and skills and will welcome them. Churches, the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce and any of the community organizations will welcome help. At Volunteers in Medicine, we don’t just have volunteers with medical backgrounds. Our community volunteers do a little bit of everything, so there are always places to plug in.

● You mentioned that you have done a lot of traveling. Are there places that stand out?

We love New Mexico and Montana, but our goal is just to continue to travel and do disaster relief wherever we are needed.

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