Mark J. Samolczyk knew it was time he and his family returned to the United States and Stark County when his two daughters–Grace, then 7, and Kate, then 5–thought “O Canada” was their native national anthem.
The Samolczyk family had been living abroad for seven years at the time due to his job with the Timken Co. They first lived in France for two years, where Samolczyk was manager of business coordination for Timken’s Europe, Africa and West Asia operations, then moved to Mexico, where he became general manager of Timken de Mexico, then to Canada where he was named president of Canadian Timken in 1992 at age 37.
The family returned home in 1995, and Samolczyk, a South Bend, Indiana, native who had followed his college sweetheart, Cynthia, to Stark County, continued to climb the management ranks at Timken Co. Samolczyk, who started at Timken as a marketing associate in 1981, was named an officer of the company in 2000. He “retired” as senior vice president of corporate planning and development in 2009.
He had planned to take a year off from working to fully explore his potential job options. But the Stark Community Foundation approached him with an intriguing job offer. He joined the nonprofit organization in October 2009 and officially took over as the foundation’s president and chief executive officer on January 1, 2010.
“I don’t know if you believe in destiny, but I think I was destined for this position,” he said. “It was such a natural transition for me.”
Samolczyk said he now realizes that all of the skills he learned from his mentors at Timken—team building, strategy planning, organizational leadership and giving back—were preparing him to lead the Foundation.
The Foundation, which manages more than 700 charitable funds that support programs and services that enrich the community, was in a state of transition when Samolczyk arrived. Its board charged him with applying his business principles to the charitable organization.
“The board was adamant that they wanted it to be run more like a business,” Samolczyk recalled.
The Foundation still connects people to the charitable causes that are important to them—it surpassed $250 million in assets for the first time earlier this year—but it also has begun investing in economic development initiatives, such as partnering with organizations to purchase the former Stark County Farm property for future development and loaning money to help the developers of the former Hercules Engine factory. The Foundation also has taken the lead to promote dialogue on long-term solutions to countywide issues such as hunger and food insecurity.
Samolczyk also is a key partner in the Stark Civic Group, a collaboration of community organizations and businesses that earlier this year released an economic development report titled “Strengthening Stark” that calls for bigger investment in economic development, a collaborative effort to create and retain jobs and a stronger workforce development system. Otherwise, the document warns the county is doomed to become smaller, older, poorer and less competitive.
He says he’s “extremely positive” about the community’s future.
“Stark County is a county that really works together,” said Samolczyk, who also sits on various regional boards. “There’s a tremendous amount of collaboration, and that’s exciting. We can truly get things done with the right focus.”
Samolczyk’s local picks
Favorite local volunteer opportunity:
Refuge of Hope
“I serve on a number of nonprofit boards across Northeast Ohio, but my favorite opportunity would be hands-on work at organizations like the Refuge of Hope where you can see and feel the immediate impact of your work. The staff of the Foundation recently created our own ‘morning of service’ and volunteered at the Refuge of Hope, and I came away from the experience with a whole new appreciation for those in need and those serving them.”
Favorite local theater:
Canton Palace Theatre
“Hands down, the Palace Theatre. Unmatched in style. The recent capital improvements have preserved the theater for the next generation.”
Favorite local spot to grab a drink:
The Martini Lounge at Market Square and John’s Bar
“Both are unique in their own ways.”
Favorite local restaurant:
“Bender’s is the place. Great food and outstanding service with an unmatched décor.”
His favorite dish? The Camp Kagel Style Walleye Pickerel with Bender fries.
Favorite lunch spot:
Deli Ohio in downtown Canton
“It’s close to the Foundations Centre and features some of the most amazing sandwiches and tastes that you could imagine. The cookies and brownies are great, too!”
Favorite thing to do:
Go to work (yes, really!)
“I absolutely love the work that I do at the Foundation. Every day is different and unique and puts me in contact with some of the most remarkable and caring people you could ever hope to meet.”