During the later years of her life, Carol Filipczak of Columbia was a near-constant presence at the Howard County Conservancy in Woodstock — weeding flower beds, taking students on nature hikes, and more.
And while Filipczak, a member of the conservancy Board of Trustees for 11 years, passed away May 26 at the age of 71, her presence will continue to be felt at the conservancy.
In her will, she left the conservancy $165,000 – more than half the nonprofit organization's annual budget and the largest single gift from an individual in the conservancy's history.
Conservancy officials said the gift came as a surprise and the money will be used, among other things, for needed renovations and to support volunteer and educational programs.
Filipczak's husband of 50 years, Jim, said his wife began the fund that would eventually be bequeathed to the conservancy nearly 30 years ago as an IRA. Upon her retirement nearly 14 years ago from work as an information specialist at RM&D Advertising Agency in Baltimore, she began volunteering at the conservancy, said Jim Filipczak, 73.
Sometime between the beginning of her volunteering and her becoming a trustee, she decided there was a "great value" in bequeathing the fund to the conservancy, he said.
The bequest is an unusually sizable gift for the conservancy, a local nonprofit dedicated to environmental protection that has a yearly budget of about $300,000, Executive Director Meg Schumacher said.
Part of Filipczak's gift will be used to match a state bond of $125,000 for the Farmstead Preservation Fund. The fund was established in 2010 as part of the conservancy's 20th anniversary to provide for immediate and long-term needs of the conservancy's eight historic buildings located on 232 acres of Woodstock farmland. The state bond, approved by General Assembly earlier this year, required that the funds be matched, Schumacher said.
Filipczak's gift, and the state bond, will go to renovating the farmhouse. The oldest part of the house dates back to the 1690s, Schumacher said, and is in need of new plumbing, electricity and heating and air conditioning systems.
Renovations to the farmhouse could begin this winter, Schumacher said, and all renovations would be done in an environmentally sensitive way.
Filipczak's gift also will be used to establish a Volunteer of the Year Award in her name, and to support the conservancy's educational programs. Both are fitting tributes to Filipczak, Schumacher said, as both volunteering and education were things she was deeply involved in.
"She knew how to connect kids with nature, and that's a really rare skill," Schumacher said of Filipczak, who founded and wrote the curriculum for the conservancy's school programs. "She was involved on the ground level, and she's touched so many programs on so many levels, just by volunteering."
Filipczak, who served as secretary for the conservancy's board, was also involved in the Howard County Citizens' Association, Howard County and Maryland State League of Women Voters and the Howard County Master Gardeners and Conservation Stewardship, among other organizations. In 2010, the Howard County Commission for Women inducted her into its Hall of Fame.
Jim Filipczak said farmland preservation struck a chord with his wife because of her roots in Minnesota – her father was a dairyman, Jim Filipczak said – as did the history of the farm. Perhaps most importantly, Jim Filipczak said, his wife saw the potential of a link between the conservancy and the Howard County Public School System.
"She was a real champion of the private entity and the public schools knitting themselves together," Jim Filipczak said. "She loved working with kids."
Schumacher described her former trustee as a practical person in life, and said her gift continues her practical approach.
"Carol didn't tell anyone about (the gift)," Schumacher said. "That speaks to her style. She didn't ever want to be the center of attention. She just wanted to get the job done."