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Women of Harford: Wendy Bohdel

As a young violinist and student of music education, Bel Air resident Wendy Bohdel became intrigued by the Suzuki method of teaching music, which relies on repetition, experience and listening. But soon Bohdel realized that the Japanese technique was more than just an approach to music: It was a teaching framework for life.

First as an orchestra director with Harford County Public Schools and later, as chief officer for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Chesapeake, and in her current role as chief operating officer at the wellness-focused Institute for Integrative Health in Baltimore, Bohdel has drawn on the Suzuki method to develop and implement programs.

“Suzuki has been the basis of everything I’ve done in my life -- in nonprofits and teaching and in the arts,” she says, explaining that she has worked extensively with at-risk children who may lack access to excellent resources. “Children want to learn -- they’re sponges. If you can provide them with something in a way they feel comfortable and valued, they will succeed.”

As the COO of The Institute for Integrative Health, a role she took on in April, Bohdel designs and raises funds for nontraditional programs that promote a wellness approach to health care. Many of these programs, such as a “summer farm program” teaching Baltimore City public school students how to grow, cook and appreciate healthy meals, incorporate the experiential principles of Suzuki.

Though Bohdel moved into the nonprofit world in 2001, she kept her foot in the Harford County arts community. She has been the concertmaster with the Susquehanna Symphony Orchestra for 28 years. As a member of the orchestra, she mentors students and encourages Harford County’s young people to stay involved in the arts.

Some of those young people are in her own family: One of Bohdel’s daughters is now an orchestra director in Harford County schools. Another daughter is an HCPS science teacher, a third is studying education and her son is in his final year at the Air Force Academy.

Bohdel cites the orchestra’s vibrant and experimental nature as a catalyst for the surprisingly sophisticated arts scene in Harford County -- though she admits she wishes arts played a more significant role in the local schools. She’d love to see a new arts center added to Harford County, as well.

But, for now, she revels in her time in the first violin chair, playing alongside students, embracing the tenets of Suzuki both in music and life.

Off the clock with Bohdel

Favorite book: “The Hobbit”
Favorite movie: “The Matrix”
Favorite Song: “Ave Maria” by Bach/Gounod
Who inspires her: Saint Faustina Kowalska (a Polish nun who was later canonized and whose diaries have been published)
Where you might find her on vacation: Skiing

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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