Craig Engelhaupt easily recalls the moment when the Leadership Howard County (LHC) Class of 2004 was lining up applicants, and that news was broached in the office.

While making such a commitment hadn’t been on his mind, he gave it some thought.

“I was working for Allfirst (now M&T Bank) at the time, and management there had a very gung-ho attitude about those types of classes,” he said. “So, I decided to ask if I could go.”

Engelhaupt got the high sign. And 11 years later, he’s looking back at his participation with nothing but good memories.

“I was in my 40s at the time, and that’s often the age when people start becoming more aware of what’s happening in the community,” he said. “I’d worked in a few markets by that point, including Frederick, Baltimore, Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties, and it seemed that Howard’s class had the best reputation.”

What a Concept

He soon saw why. “I almost felt that anyone who lives in Howard County should go through LHC, because it really shows you what’s going on with the police, the fire department, the county government,” he said. He was especially impressed by the police department’s command center. “It’s like an underground bunker that exists in case of another ‘snowmageddon’ or another emergency situation.”

Much of Engelhaupt’s indoctrination was experienced during LHC’s two-day retreat, “which is the first real event that you go to,” he said, noting the intense discussions and the personality profiling that occurs before workgroups are formed. “They split you into different personality types,” he said, adding that few of the class members were acquainted at that point.

That’s when the concept kicked into full gear. “The energy level is very intense the whole time,” he said. “We’d got there at 8 a.m., and we never got out before 5 p.m. It was a continuing bombardment of your attention span. We’d have sessions once a month, always at a different place, such as a county fire station, a legislative meeting in Annapolis, in the George Howard Building, Howard County General Hospital, etc.”

Interestingly, 2004 was Executive Director Stacie Hunt’s first full year with LHC, and Engelhaupt noted the confidence with which she took over the reins of the organization. He particularly admired the way she ran the room of various personalities with various states of ADHD.

“If you have too many leaders in the room,” he said, “you have to remember that only one can take over the conversation. And she couldn’t come off as Draconian.”

West Under Control

While some applicants might view LHC as an avenue to accumulate business contacts, the program has never really been about adding acquaintances to a list or padding a paycheck, Engelhaupt said.

It’s really about “giving back to the community,” he said, “and going through LHC gives you a conduit to learn how to find your passion. In my case, I had become very interested in maintaining open space and not overdeveloping Howard County. What I learned was that much of the development for the coming years had been slated for new projects years in advance in east county. That had already been decided. So we didn’t have much say there.

“However,” said the Ellicott City resident, “much of the development for west county had been controlled. At one point, our neighborhood association went to a hearing about a specific development in east county, and one of the participants giving testimony asked the elected government official [who was playing with his Blackberry] why he was not listening to her testimony. He simply replied that the decision had already been made and said they were obligated to be in the hearing to listen to citizens … and that was what he was doing.”

That the officials’ hearts “did not seem to be in [the] conversation,” Engelhaupt said, “is an understatement. But that just heightened my interest. That incident occurred in the early 2000s and was what prompted my passion to get into LHC in the first place.”

The program gives its graduates a review to hone their focus on how they can contribute to the community. Soon thereafter, the Howard County Conservancy — 232 acres of farmland that was established by families in west county to preserve farmland and open space — offered Engelhaupt the opportunity to voice his passion.

“Allfirst was turning into M&T Bank at the time, and it was sponsoring an event at the Conservancy. The bank had me present a check to the organization, and I ended up getting a tour of the grounds. And that,” he said, “was when I fell in love with the place.”

Stewardship First

The update on the story is that, today, Engelhaupt is president of the Conservancy board. To date, the nonprofit has “doubled its operating budget to $500,000; we’ve defined our mission to educate children and adults about the natural world, preserve the land and its legacy for future generations, and provide a model of responsible stewardship of the environment.”

Due to setting and achieving those goals, the Conservancy’s programs have “taken off,” he said.

“We have something going on at Woodstock and at the newer location at Belmont [in Elkridge], on the east side of the county, all the time,” Engelhaupt said. On that note, the Conservancy is currently in the process of evaluating the expansion of the Woodstock location to accommodate more offices and nature center space.

All told, Engelhaupt’s adventure with LHC had made him feel that he’s made a difference.

Engelhaupt doesn’t think any of the above would have happened had he not decided to take advantage of the opportunity that was offered more than a decade ago.

“The leadership of LHC and the support of others who had gone through the program,” he said, “prove that it’s been a well-run entity and that it continues to be.”