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Published: Thursday, 2/20/2014

Renee C. Kolby-Sharp; 1956-2014: AmeriCorps volunteer dedicated life to service

BY MARK ZABORNEY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Renee Kolby-Sharp Renee Kolby-Sharp
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Renee C. Kolby-Sharp, 58, who led AmeriCorps in northwest Ohio for more than a decade and was a finalist for a Jefferson Award, died Sunday in Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center.

She had pneumonia, her son, Joe, said, but she dealt for years with breast cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“I just have a physical cancer,” Ms. Kolby-Sharp told The Blade in 2005, “not a cancer that plagues society like poverty or hunger.”

Ms. Kolby-Sharp was executive director of AmeriCorps Serving Northwest Ohio for about 14 years when she retired because of her health in 2008. The program, often referred to as a domestic Peace Corps, operated under the auspices of Mercy Health Partners. She also retired as coordinator of health ministries for Mercy, her employer of more than 20 years.

During her tenure, more than 600 people — mostly young adults — passed through AmeriCorps locally, working in community centers, tutoring children, even making household repairs for the families of soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan.

“I want to instill in our members that service should be a way of life,” Ms. Kolby-Sharp told The Blade.

She worked well with community organizations, and she encouraged the AmeriCorps members.

"She was very hands-on, but she allowed people to blossom and explore different possibilities," said Larry Cardwell, her successor as executive director. "That will be her legacy.”

The work inspired her as well. “It’s so wonderful to work with young people,” she told The Blade. "As we grow older, we maybe get a little cynical.”

In 2008, she was among 95 nominated for the Jefferson Award because of their service to northwest Ohio. She later was named one of 10 finalists for the award.

Born Jan. 15, 1956, to Darolea and Robert Kolby, she grew up in West Toledo. She was a 1974 graduate of Start High School and received a bachelor's degree in business from the University of Toledo. She worked in the business office of NL Industries and later at a center for people with mental and behavioral issues.

“That was her introduction to doing community outreach programs,” her son said. Her experience as a single mother reinforced her interest in giving others a boost.

“She struggled to pay bills, but she made it work, and she always said that beginning gave her a concrete foundation in trying to help others,” her son said.

When she was hired at the former Mercy Hospital, she worked to help patients reduce the length of their hospital stays. “She had a way of being able to connect with them,” her son said.

Through her health struggles especially, she spent her free time with family members and friends.

“She had a very humorous side,” her son said. “She thought there were times to be serious, but also times to laugh about stuff. When she would tell stories, she was very dramatic, and she wouldn’t leave a detail out.”

Surviving are her husband, Charles Sharp, whom she married June 6, 2003; son Joseph Kolby, and sisters Connie Harris and Barb Kolby.

Visitation will be from 2-8 p.m. today in the Ansberg-West Funeral Home, where the funeral will be at 9 a.m. Friday.

The family suggests tributes to the American Cancer Society.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.



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