Cecil County Says Farewell to Former Commissioners President and Educator Nelson Bolender, with Tears and Laughter
There were tears and laughterâ€”much, much laughterâ€”as Cecil County residents gathered on Tuesday to say farewell to Nelson Bolender and celebrate the life and legacy of the countyâ€™s premiere educator and government leader.
Bolender, the former principal of North East and Elkton high schools and the two-term president of the Cecil County Board of Commissioners, was laid to rest on 2/19/13 after an overflow crowd attended his funeral services at the Elkton United Methodist church. Current and former county government officials, teachers and citizens all joined together with Bolenderâ€™s family to honor his memory. Bolender died suddenly last Thursday, 2/14/13.
An honor guard of Cecil County Sheriffâ€™s Department deputies flanked the entry to the church sanctuary, and Sheriff Barry Janneyâ€”often choking back tearsâ€”spoke in Bolenderâ€™s honor. â€śNelson did more for public safety,â€ť Janney said, â€śthan anyone in historyâ€ť in Cecil County.
On Bolenderâ€™s watch as president of the Commissioners board, the county bolstered the law enforcement officers pension program, which until that time had never had a retiree because the benefits were so low. Bolender and his Commissioner board ally, Harry Hepbron, pushed through a major upgrade of the pension system and celebrated the first-ever retiree from the county Sheriffâ€™s department as a result of those efforts.
Janney laughed that Bolender, like himself, was a â€śpranksterâ€ť and often pulled jokes on him. So at various public events, he often sat near Bolender, â€śso I could keep an eye on him,â€ť Janney said.
Henry (â€śDickieâ€ť) Shaffer, the former county Superintendent of schools who once served as an assistant principal to Bolender, said that the sudden loss of Nelson Bolender last week was â€śalmost surrealâ€ť but that his friends and community must unite to â€śacknowledge the giftâ€ť of his life and service to the county.
â€śNelson was unique and very much his own person,â€ť Shaffer said. He was â€śintelligent and wiseâ€ť and â€śhe respected everyone.â€ť Bolender was also â€śfun-loving and gregarious,â€ť he said, and â€śhe gave so much to others.â€ť
But â€śat his core,â€ť Nelson Bolender was â€śa gentlemanâ€ť and â€śhe is irreplaceable,â€ť Shaffer added.
Two longtime family friends, Sonny Tenny and Rich Juergens, recounted vacation trips to Ocean City with the Bolenders and all three familiesâ€™ children for many years. They told funny stories about how Nelson was handyman-challenged and left it up to them, and Peg, Bolenderâ€™s wife, to accomplish needed home repairs that Nelson supervised but somehow never actually assisted.
A photo slide-show tribute showcased Bolender mostly in his personal life, with more photos of him in shorts and bathing suits at the beach than many Cecil County residents might have imagined from the man most knew from his distinguished suit and tie attire in Elkton.
There were some unexpectedâ€”and funny– insights into the private side of the man who was a crucially important leader in modernizing Cecil County and leading the community from its past to its future.
The man who could dissect a lengthy government policy treatise and ask insightful questions about the most arcane points of government policy and finance matters was also secretly a fan of TV game shows and the HGTV home improvement channelâ€”despite his friendsâ€™ laughing commentary about his lack of tool and home repair skills. And he liked to clip discount coupons and do the family grocery shopping.
There wasnâ€™t a dry eye in the church when one of Bolenderâ€™s sons, Brian, thanked the community for the outpouring of support for the family in the aftermath of his fatherâ€™s death. Despite the emotional difficulty of speaking at the service, he said, he must â€śgive you a bit more because thatâ€™s what Bolenders do.â€ť
â€śHe loved being a Cecil countian,â€ť Brian Bolender said of his father. â€śI encourage you to be the best Cecil countian you can beâ€ť and that â€świll truly honor his memory.â€ť
The Rev. Karen F. Bunnell told the congregation that â€śGod blessed all of us by putting him in our worldâ€ť and â€śhe was a gift to all of us.â€ť
Earlier in the morning, the County Council meeting room at the county administration buildingâ€”which Bolender initiated construction for to consolidate the previously fractured, multi-site government officesâ€”was draped in black bunting in mourning for Bolender and outdoor flags were dropped to half-staff in his honor.
â€śI was very saddenedâ€ť to learn of Nelson Bolenderâ€™s death, said newly appointed County Council member Joyce Bowlsbey (R-2), adding that the county had lost a â€śpillarâ€ť of the community.
Councilor Dr. Alan McCarthy (R-1), said that Bolender was â€śa stalwart in this community and a quite fine man.â€ť
County Council President Robert Hodge (R-5) said that Bolender â€śserved his community in an exemplary way.â€ť And â€śI donâ€™t know there is going to be anyone who can replace him.â€ť
But County Council members were in meetings, including closed door sessions about hiring a new Council attorney, when the services for Bolender were held.
Other county officials seen at the services at the church in Elkton included County Executive Tari Moore; county Director of Administration Al Wein; former Commissioners Harry Hepbron and Rebecca Demmler; Circuit Court Clerk Derrick Lowe; Registrar of Wills Allyn Price Nickle; and former director of economic development Vernon Thompson .