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Chamber honors Athena award winner

Mayor Barbara Volk speaks during the Athena Award presentation.

Making a tough call from a field of nominees that many considered the strongest ever, the Chamber of Commerce on Thursday honored Hendersonville Mayor Barbara Volk as the 2020 Athena Award winner.

A self-described introvert, Volk has used her quiet leadership and affinity for compromise to guide the city for the last 11 years. First elected to the City Council 31 years ago, she became the city's first female mayor in 2009. She was nominated by Lyndsey Simpson, one of two women elected to the City Council last November.

Besides Volk, nominees for the 13th annual award were Ruth Birge, a former Times-News publisher and United Way executive director and current director of Vision Henderson County; Marcia Caserio, a lifelong community leader in education, health care and the arts; Kimerly Hinkelman, the former executive director of the Pardee Foundation; Dr. Laura Leatherwood, president of the Blue Ridge Community College; LoriKay “LK” Paden, who was recently promoted as executive director of the Hendersonville Family YMCA; and Asheville firefighter Joy Ponder, a cancer survivor who has worked to educate policy-makers about the prevalence of cancer in firefighters.

"Mayor Volk is a quiet but strong leader," Lee Henderson-Hill, a past Athena winner, and one of the hosts of the virtual ceremony. "Once a decision is made, she fully supports it, whether or not her position was adopted. In addition to her leadership approach of consensus, she exemplifies how to make decisions for the good of the whole. Because of her quiet leadership, Barbara has forged the path for other women to be elected to the City Council and to take executive director positions and other roles in business and organizations. Hendersonville is an open and inviting city because of Mayor Volk's ability to focus on the future well-being of all citizens."

"Developing relationships is not a natural or easy thing for an introvert like me to do," Volk said in remarks before the winner was announced. "But I have had mentors who reached out to me and led me to the path of public service. By watching and listening to them, I could see the important qualities in local elected officials."

Among the duties she enjoys most as mayor "is going out and talking to groups," she said. "I love connecting with them, telling them what's going on, getting their suggestions of what they think the city should be doing."

To be effective as mayor, she said, she has had to develop strong relationships with council members.

"We may have different opinions but with a relationship of mutual respect we're able to work through those difficult issues because we're all trying to work for the best for the people of Henderson County," she said. "I'm touched and honored that one of my fellow council members nominated me for the Athena Award. It's gratifying to know that some of what I've learned I've been able to pass along to a young leader."

Volk became emotional in her brief acceptance remarks, again thanking Simpson for nominating her.

"Maybe I can talk more later but right now it's a little more than I take," she said.

Presented by Pardee UNC Health Care and Judy Stroud-State Farm Insurance, the award is named for Vanessa Mintz, a business and civic leader who died in February 2011, five years after starting the Athena award in Henderson County.