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What's Up Magazine

Towne Salute: Lori Powley

Nov 09, 2018 12:00AM ● By Brian Saucedo
By Tom Worgo
Photography by Ted Mueller

Lori Powley’s says her family’s blood, sweat, and tears are out there on the waters overlooked by the Choptank Lighthouse. Powley comes from four generations of Chesapeake Bay watermen. Her great-grandfather, grandfather, uncle, and brother all made their living crabbing, fishing, and oystering. “If I was a male in my family, I might have gone into working on the water,” Powley insists.

But she’s found her own way to honor her family tradition by working as a volunteer for the Cambridge Lighthouse Foundation. The Choptank Lighthouse—which is featured on the cover of the 2018 Maryland Visitor Guide and has drawn 25,000 visitors since it opened in 2012—and everything it stands for is part of Powley’s heritage. That’s why the Cambridge native and resident gets so excited when she talks about it.

“The lighthouse has become an icon in our community,” she says of the Choptank Lighthouse, which was erected in 2012 and is modeled after one of the lighthouses that operated on the Choptank River on the approaches to Cambridge from 1871 until 1964. “When kids want to get pictures for the prom that’s where they go. People get married there. People propose at the lighthouse.”

This deep attachment is what led her to start volunteering four years ago. Almost immediately she made a dramatic impact on the Cambridge Lighthouse Foundation, the local nonprofit that runs the Choptank Lighthouse, by bringing even more of the community on board. “For the first year, I was like, ‘Let’s have a fundraiser,’” says Powley, 48, who has four boys and works as a mental health therapist for Marshy Hope Family Services in Cambridge. “Cheryl (Willey, a fellow volunteer), and I hammered out the name and we pushed for Light Night. I was like, ‘Let’s have a big party.’”

The Lighthouse Foundation did indeed have that party—and every year for the past three years.

It’s been a big one. Light Night, held in August this year and October the previous two years at the Cambridge Yacht Club, serves as the organization’s main fundraiser and this summer, Powley worked as its chairman.

Willey, the secretary of the organization’s board of directors, feels Powley is the perfect person for the job. “She is super-vivacious,” Willey says. “It just spills over. She is just full of ideas and excitement for the event. She doesn’t mind going up to strangers and asking them to give to the lighthouse. She really works hard at it, and she loves it.”

About a month before this year’s Light Night, Powley was already planning for the 2019 event. Light Night is a multifaceted gala featuring food, wine, silent and live auctions, dancing, and more. The sold-out event routinely draws about 200 people and raised nearly $20,000 in both 2016 and 2017.

Her contributions for Light Night include procuring donations in various forms, including items for the auctions and wine for the “Wine Wall.” She also schedules a DJ.

At the same time, she handles a variety of administrative duties, including scheduling meetings for the Light Night Committee and is constantly working on spreadsheets. She also personally sends out invitations. “I’m a taskmaster,” Powley says. “I do take charge. I go right down my checklist to make sure we have everything done. I stay on the ladies. I really try to be effective and efficient.”

Her dedication has earned her the respect of Cambridge Lighthouse Foundation Executive Director Jim Duffy. “This year, we came into the process without anyone really in charge,” Duffy says. “She just really, on her own and in a great way, stepped up and said, ‘I am going to be the overall supervisor of this.’”

Duffy also appreciates the time and effort Powley devotes to recruiting and organizing volunteers for another big biannual event in September: The Lighthouse Challenge, which attracts people from all over the country to Maryland lighthouses. Duffy believes Powley’s local connections make her even more special. “When you’re working in the nonprofit world on the Eastern Shore, it’s a lot about the people who are from here,” he explains. “It’s great to have someone with deep roots in the community up front and center for us.”

Powley also did volunteer work for Handsell, an 18th-century historical brick house in nearby Vienna that has ties to the Eastern Shore’s Colonial, African-American and Native American history. For two years, she planned events, recruited volunteers, and worked as a fundraiser—helping raise about $6,000—for the Nanticoke Historic Preservation Alliance, which has restored Handsell.

But now her energies are sharply focused on the lighthouse. “I’m paying homage to my family and the work they did,” Powley explains. “The lighthouse has always been vital to our maritime heritage. It’s a way I can take my education, my skills, my expertise and put something back into the community.”