“It’s important to remember where you come from and give back to the community,” says Cheryl Holcomb, director of finance and human resources at Kansas University’s School of Pharmacy, 2010 winner of the Emily Taylor award for Outstanding Woman Staff Member and busy volunteer for Douglas County Senior Services.
Holcomb feels deeply connected to her paternal Italian grandfather, who arrived in the U.S. at age 14 with his 9-year-old sister to make a life for them both.
“He was hard-working, community-minded and instilled in his children the importance of a college education,” Holcomb says.
His death, when she was 6, left her bereft.
“My other grandparents lived on the East Coast, and I didn’t have much interaction with them,” she says. “I was envious when my friends spent overnights and weekends with their grandparents. Volunteering at the Senior Center helps fill that childhood void.”
Holcomb enjoyed her Lawrence childhood and rode her bike all over town.
She attended Broken Arrow, South Junior and Lawrence High schools, where she played in the marching band and belonged to numerous clubs. She graduated (with distinction) from KU’s business school in 1982, then worked in continuing education in Kansas City before returning to work at KU in 2004.
“Lawrence is a great place to raise a family, and I wanted my daughter to be close to her grandparents,” Holcomb says.
Shortly after her move she donated some rocking chairs to the Lawrence Senior Center, and her visit stirred strong memories of her grandfather. She’s volunteered there ever since.
“I truly enjoy seniors. They have great insight and wisdom and have learned what’s important in life,” Holcomb says.
“I feel we have an obligation to look after and provide relevant services for those who have lived and served in our community over the years.”
She realized natural connections could be made between the pharmacy students and seniors.
“I feel it’s important for our wonderful students to have real-life interactions with seniors, and see first-hand how much seniors rely on pharmacists for advice with medications and therapies,” she says.
She was already on DCSS’ board of directors, and with full support from Dean Audus, she helped set up flu clinics, bone density screenings and health fairs at the Senior Center.
“The greatest outcome is the intergenerational co-mingling,” Holcomb says.
“Seniors give to students, and students give to the seniors. It doesn’t get any better than that. Problems and challenges cannot be adequately addressed if we don’t understand the history, cultural and generational issues behind them. This type of interaction only brings greater understanding between groups. I also hope it’s filling a void, much like I had, for students who don’t live near their grandparents.”
Holcomb serves on DCSS’ fund-raising committee for Jazz It Up and chairs the Tea and Fashion Show September event.
“This event is really meaningful for me,” she says.
“It provides an opportunity for women of all ages to have fun, socialize and build relationships; it’s what community is al about. I like to think my grandparents, especially my paternal grandfather, would be pleased with me.”