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Terry & Sandy Strine: Helping to shape hundreds of state’s young leaders is ‘sheer joy’

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When discussing the Eight Over 80 nominees, everyone agreed that Terry and Sandy Strine are inextricably linked. 

“We’ve been working together our entire marriage,” Terry said, adding that Sandy supported his philosophy of changing jobs anytime he stopped loving the work.

IBM brought them together, but they wanted to be their own bosses so they turned to commercial real estate. Terry became chairman of the Delaware State Republican Committee in 2003 at the urging of longtime friend and mentor former Gov. Pete du Pont. He resigned in 2008 and started thinking about what was next.

“I was concerned about the direction of everything,” he said. “You have a choice: Wring your hands in your rocking chair or do something about it.”

Photo by Ron Dubick

He chose the latter, creating a seven-page document that outlined a year-long program of issue-oriented forums aimed at outstanding young Delawareans and preparing them with the knowledge, vision, integrity, and networks to significantly impact and transform their communities, preferably in Delaware.

And that was how Leadership Delaware got its start in 2009.

He started by contributing $5,000 of his own money and adding $5,000 from others and $15,000 from the Longwood Foundation. He and Sandy didn’t take a salary that first year and they still don’t.

Over the past 10 years, 246 people, called Fellows, have completed the course. Only 11 have left the state for other jobs. The current class had 27 Fellows representing 22 different career paths. The Strines are most proud of the relationships and trust that have been built between people who otherwise might never have talked or worked together.

Over the course of each year’s program, the Fellows will see 155 speakers and they’ll each be asked to interview and introduce six of the speakers to the rest of the group. Fifteen-minute background interviews often become two-hour mentoring and relationship-building sessions. And the philosophy behind the speakers is to expose them to different styles and points of view.

When asked about what their spouse brings to the table, Terry quickly starts.

“Sandy is warm, welcoming and embracing,” he said. “Whatever the crisis in [the Fellows’] life, they can comfortably bring it to Sandy and she’ll give them a hug and talk it through. But she’s not a pushover.”

“He loves history,” Sandy responded. “He’s a writer, a speaker, and a mentor. And he’s a forward thinker.”

“We call it building an onion,” Terry said. “At the end of each year, they each stand up and talk about what the group can expect they’ll personally do in the coming years and how the program has changed them. Transforming a life is a pretty big deal.”

“They’re phenomenal people,” said Kat Cieniewicz, owner of Lewes-based Aging in Place Specialists and a 2016 Fellow. “Their energy is unmatched and it’s incredible what they pour into the Leadership Development program.”

Cieniewicz said she made the leap to be self-employed because of the program, saying it helped her build her confidence and exposed her to business skills she had not gotten as a health-care provider.

The Strines are now recruiting for the next Leadership Delaware class, and this one will be their last as chairman and CEO. They will be moving on to focus on boosting alumni engagement and planning and hosting special events. The search will begin next year for a replacement and the Strines aren’t sure yet whether it will be one person or a couple, or whether the first paid leader will be a Fellow or come from outside the family.

“We probably work a combination of 60 hours a week on this, but it’s not work, it’s sheer joy,” Sandy said. “We’re getting more than we’re giving.”

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