If you’re trying to track down Herb Lemcool, you might see if he’s ringing bells downtown for the Salvation Army. Or he might helping the local Boy Scouts, or lending a hand at the National Cherry Festival, or working as a SCORE mentor, or….well, you get the picture.
Lemcool, a Traverse City native who’s spent nearly all of his life involved in community and charity organizations, was selected by the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce for its 2016 Distinguished Service Award. Lemcool will be honored at the Chamber’s Annual Celebration on January 20, 2017.
“Perhaps as much as anyone who’s been recognized, Herb really embodies what the Chamber’s Distinguished Service Award is all about,” Chamber Board Chair Mike Meindertsma said. “Herb has stepped up over the years to support so many of our community organizations from the National Cherry Festival to the Boy Scouts, Rotary, Jaycees, SCORE and others. He’s also served area residents with honor and integrity as a long-time elected official and been a leader with several community service agencies that provide transportation, public and mental health, and other critical services so important to the residents of our region.”
The Chamber’s Distinguished Service Award is among the oldest community service awards, presented by the Chamber annually since 1929. The 2015 recipient was attorney Charles B. “Chuck” Judson of Traverse City.
Lemcool said he was surprised, humbled and honored to be selected for the Distinguished Service Award.
“I was blown away,” he said. “I’m a very emotional person, so I teared up a little bit. I’m still in awe …when you look at that list (of past DSA recipients), it’s a very elite group of people. I’m just honored to be part of it.”
Lemcool was born and raised in Traverse City’s west side Slabtown neighbor. He credits his parents for helping instill his giving attitude, and his involvement in scouting in his boyhood years for helping launch what’s become a lifetime of community service.
“My mother and father were very welcoming people,” he said. “And most of my life has been around scouting. That, to me, is what’s driven me over the years.”
Lemcool, 75, ran C & H Maintenance in Traverse City for 47 years before turning the business over to family. He credits an outstanding group of employees at the business for allowing him the time to get involved in his other endeavors – along with his wife, Barb, who’s also among region’s top volunteer stalwarts. The couple has six children, 16 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
“Having a great partner is the most important thing,” he said. “We’re very, very blessed.”
Along with being a decorated Boy Scout leader including receipt of the prestigious Silver Beaver Award and District Award of Merit, Lemcool’s decades of community service include more than 40 years of involvement with the National Cherry Festival dating to the early ‘70s. He served as festival president from 1991-94, and remains involved as a festival volunteer today.
Lemcool has also taken on the sometimes-thankless role of public service. He served as a Grand Traverse County commissioner for 16 years, including the county board chairmanship in 2013-14. His business experience was an asset in his work on the county’s Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, its Economic Development Corp., and on the Grand Traverse Redevelopment Corp. that led to the eventual re-development of the former state hospital groups into The Village at Grand Traverse Commons.
But Lemcool’s compassion for those in need often steered his involvement to other areas to improve the region’s social safety net, including the Community Mental Health Board, the Department of Human Service Board and the Bay Area Transportation Authority. He was a leader on the local 211 Committee to help area residents better access available human services. He helped clear the way for the former county health department building to be converted to a PACE facility to help elderly residents maintain good health and independence.
Lemcool has also shared his volunteer efforts through his involvement in organizations like Rotary International and the award-winning SCORE chapter in Traverse City, where he’s been a mentor for more than 20 years. The Chamber also benefitted from Herb’s giving spirit, including his launch of the Good Morning Traverse City breakfast series several years ago, and his involvement in Leadership Grand Traverse. Herb and Barb are also active in St. Patrick’s Catholic Parish.
The one constant through Lemcool’s decades of community service and the thousands of hours given for others is his always-upbeat attitude and his infectious enthusiasm that fills any room he enters. Barb Lemcool cites a quote from her husband in an old newspaper story from she says best describes his optimistic outlook on life:
“It’s like I told my children when they were growing up: It doesn’t matter what you do, but do something. Shake hands with somebody and do what you can do to make this town a better place to live.”