"Surprise" luncheon celebrates retiring Executive Director

By John Bailey


Thank You…Thank You – the community in Catawba County got a chance to honor Jennie Connor with a surprise retirement luncheon Wednesday.

It was an opportunity to share stories about Jennie’s impact through the last 20 years as the Catawba County United Way’s Executive Director. She spent the two decades helping to connect needs with resources and bringing hope to thousands and thousands of local lives.

To illustrate this need even further, Jennie brought props to her own “secret” retirement event to share with everyone. Each reflected a moment of crisis in our community – behind on rent/mortgage, hunger, sexual abuse, unemployed, addiction, struggling to pay utilities, in need of senior services.

“These are people who live beside us, who work beside us, who need our help,” Jennie said to the crowd gathered in front of her. 

jennie luncheon
Jennie Connor receives special recognition from Hickory Chief of Police Thurman Whisnant.

She thanked everyone who travelled with her on this journey of tackling these issues and letting those in crisis know they were not alone.

Back in January when she first announced her retirement, Jennie said her heart was full.

“I retire to spend time loving on my family and laughing with friends, having complete conviction that there are caring people who will carry on…creating life-changing opportunities for those less fortunate because they will listen,” she said. 

During the luncheon, the City of Hickory recognized Jennie with a proclamation from Mayor Hank Guess, declaring March 31 as Jennie Connor day.

The City of Newton announced it will be presenting Jennie with a special proclamation as well, and Hickory Chief of Police Thurman Whisnant presented her with a commemorative police nightstick, recognizing her dedication to those less fortunate.

The Police Chief shared the story of how one of the department’s newest positions was created with help from the CCUW.

"We were responding to a lot of calls for people dealing with homelessness and addiction," Chief Whisnant said. "We had a vision that one of the things we needed in the Hickory area was someone who could help navigate people to services."

The chief was ready to take on that challenge but knew he would need some help and advice on how it would work, so he called Jennie.

The Hickory Police Department went on to create the Community Navigator position - filled by Casey McCall - to act as a resource to connect those in need to local programs. In the year and a half since it started, the department has helped more than 30 individuals find permanent housing.

Remarks were also shared by CCUW Board President Amy Guyer, incoming CCUW Executive Director Mark Bumgarner, Catawba County Manager Mick Berry, Catawba County Chamber of Commerce President Lindsay Keisler and former Family Guidance Center Executive Director Ann Peele.

You can help carry Jennie’s passion for helping others into the future by supporting the Jennie Connor Fund, through the Catawba County United Way.

Mail a check to the Catawba County United Way at P.O. Box 2425, Hickory, NC 28603 or text

ccuw jennie to 313131 to donate through PayPal or call 828-327-6851.

Currently, more than $59,000 has been donated to the fund. Thank you to all those who’ve contributed.