County leadership program serves to develop leaders

Tina Spencer, Lisa Schafer, Tim Baxa, Roman Hofer, Dale Dalke, Nina Carr, Sharon Dover, Tristen Cope. Marion County Leadership Program Committee members and participants brainstorm about ways to improve Marion County during one of the class sessions.

K-State Research and Extension Agent Tristen Cope has learned to look at leadership differently, especially after taking a class on the topic through Kansas Leadership Center and helping run the Marion County Leadership Program.

“I was in a lot of leadership positions in high school and throughout college, but I was never taught or shown leadership as a verb. I was always taught that leadership was a noun,” said Cope. “It’s an act of how you’re a leader as opposed to a noun— acting as a leader— it’s what you do to gain those leadership skills or to help engage and empower others into leadership positions. It’s a different mindset when you’re looking at it as a verb. As a leader, what are you doing to empower others?”

Marion County Leadership is a seven-week program that seeks to identify, motivate and continually develop new and emerging leaders from business, non-profit and private sectors to affect change in the quality of civic, cultural and economic life in Marion County.

Thanks to funding from the Marion County Leadership Endowment held by Central Kansas Community Foundation (CKCF), Marion County residents have an opportunity to participate in the county leadership program that is designed to teach leadership skills while learning about the county’s needs. The course is facilitated by the KLC and includes tours of the county as well as discussions about how to apply learnings to opportunities and challenges in Marion County.

The program, made available by Marion County, CKCF and KLC, originally started in 1992.

Marion County Clerk Tina Spencer, who serves on the committee for the program, said, “We had Marion County Leadership years ago. It stopped in 2014. At that time it had gone under the umbrella of the Economic Development Department who was heading it up. I had had an interest for quite a while in just trying to try to start something up again. We had to find the structure and the people to do it. We were able to start that and have been holding the classes for two years now.”

Spencer began meeting with a few people about getting the program back up and running again in 2021 and coworker Ashley Herpich joined her in forming a committee and officially restarting the program in 2022.

“We wanted somebody from the city government, from the county, somebody from schools in different areas. We wanted somebody from the south part of the county and somebody from the north side of the county. So we just tried to put together a little group and we just started planning and dreaming,” said Spencer. “Then it became a program again. Pretty early on in that planning process, I brought Ashley into it because it was a little bit more than I had time to work even though I was supportive of it. She’s really good at this kind of thing, so I just wanted to give her the opportunity to learn that she’s really good at this sort of thing.”

Herpich has enjoyed it and has become the point person for everything.

“We meet monthly as a committee, and I interact with the participants in the class, emailing them with all the information. We get binders for each of them, whatever we need to order. All of us on the committee all do a lot, and we all try to attend whichever classes we can,” said Herpich. “There’s eight of us on the committee and it’s a good group. The committee consists of me and Tina, Jarrod Youk, Tristan Cope, Denise Crabb, Krista Schneider, Larry Geist and David Mueller.”

Lisa Schafer, Tim Baxa, Roman Hofer, Dale Dalke, Nina Carr, Sharon Dover, Tristen Cope. Marion County Leadership Program Committee members and participants brainstorm about ways to improve Marion County during one of the class sessions. The class happens two times a year and is open to Marion County residents.

The class meets once a week for seven weeks. During that time, they tour different businesses all over the county. Cope works along with Youk to plan the tours.

Spencer said that participants in the class often comment on how they appreciate getting to see parts of the county they never had before because of the class.

“We get that kind of feedback from every single class,” she said. “The tours are a big, popular part of it.”

City of Hillsboro employee Dale Dalke took the most recent class and enjoyed the tours.

“We got to tour different parts of the county. I mean I know those towns, but I don’t know the businesses. We toured certain businesses in each of those communities, and I saw stuff that I didn’t know about. Or maybe I kind of knew something was there but didn’t know about it,” said Dalke. “It just brought to light what’s there—who runs it whether they’re a leader publicly for the county or a leader in their own business.”

Dalke said he learned that the county has a lot of homegrown businesses.

“There’s a lot of manufacturers and producers and good things here. You just might not know it or don’t see it. The tours opened my eyes to that, which was cool. We got to see other leaders and hear what they do, how they started and their stories,” said Dalke.

The program participants take the When Everyone Leads class at KLC in Wichita and then apply what they learn there to solve some of the challenges in Marion County.

In the recent fall class, they added a county government day. They also added a conversation with all of the school districts’ superintendents.

“It was very eye-opening for them. People don’t really realize what they’re facing and the world that they’re in within the education realm,” said Spencer.

Those who have been through the program seem to have good things to say about it.

Tina Groening, who recently became the Marion County Treasurer, credits the program with her success in her career.

“Before participating in Leadership Marion County, I could not have imagined being in a leadership position. The program gave me tools that equipped me to help members of a group work together to move toward a goal,” said Groening. “Through networking with other Leadership Marion County participants, I found that many people want to make our communities the best place to live and raise our families and that a great deal can be accomplished when we work together toward common goals. After participating in the program, I had the confidence to serve in some very fulfilling leadership capacities.”

Denise Crabb, Krista Schneider, Dale Dalke. Crabb and Dalke recently completed the Marion County Leadership Program. Schneider serves on the committee for the program.

Dalke recommends that others take the class.

“This would be a good class for people to open their eyes to everything. And it’s just good to meet other people and see some different circles—get a broader look at things versus just having tunnel vision,” said Dalke. “They taught us about being a leader where you’re at. You don’t have to be a county commissioner to be a leader. You don’t have to be president of some board or club or something. I mean, that’s good—you can motivate yourself to do that. But you can be a leader where you’re at at work and with volunteer organizations and different things. Be a leader where you’re at. Motivate people. Help out. Do things.”

Until now the class has been only for adults, but the committee has been working on one for select high schoolers that will be starting this month. There will be more information about that down the road, but the committee is very excited about it.

For adults interested in participating in the next class which will be in the fall, you can find information on the Marion County Leadership Facebook page or go to


Top to bottom- David Mueller, Roman Hofer, Tim Baxa, Nina Carr, Dale Dalke, Lisa Schafer, Ashley Herpich, Tristen Coper, Jarrod Youk, Krista Schneider, Sharon Dover, Denise Crabb. All recently participated in the Marion County Leadership Program either on the committee or as participants in the class.
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