Dec. 1 2004 12:00 AM

It was during Kujawas term as president that this occurred. Debra is the consummate professional. I think she?ll be missed more than anybody thinks.

Holder has been in the position as executive director for a year when tragedy struck, After 13 years of marriage, her husband Larry passed away. It was a rough time, going from the happiest day of her life one year earlier to one of the saddest.

Holder had thoughts of moving back to Georgia, but she loved her job, and she was kept very busy so she didn?t really have time to thinkabout it. As she likes to put it, ?My second family, ALCA kept it together for me.? So she decided to stay in Virginia.

When Holder first joined ALCA there were three on staff including her, and the budget was approximately $400,000 and the membership numbered 800. Today, ALCA boasts membership of almost 3,000, 21 people on staff (27 after the merger) a budget of $4.2 million and $1.5 million for the Foundation.

Earlier this year, the board of directors elected Holder CEO. She is the first to hold this position. Just recently she announced that she was retiring. This announcement stunned the green industry, ALCA members as well as the board of directors.

So why is she leaving? Holder quipped, ?How often does one get the opportunity to have a second career? Seriously, I?ve worked since I was 13, and I?m looking forward taking some time off.? When asked what she?ll do, she answered, ?I?m looking forward to traveling for the next few months, and then I hope to give back to the community by doing volunteer work. I love people and I love helping them. Hopefully, I can extend a hand to those in need.?

With the merger of ALCA and the Professional Lawn Care Association of America (PLCAA) complete, Holder felt it was a good time to leave. After 25 years, she felt her energy was not as high as it should be. She knows only one way to work and that is at full steam. Having given much thought she decided that her retiring was the best ?time for me and time for ALCA.?

Tanya Tolpegin, Chief Operating Officer of ALCA stated, ?Debra?s contribution to the green industry extends beyond ALCA. She has touched so many people?s lives and businesses. Her impact will live on well beyond her tenure with ALCA.?

?At age 46, and in good health, it is time to smell the roses,? said Holder. ?I?ve made so many friends during my 25 years, and I love the green industry. I?ll be sure to pop in from time to time.?

Holder has made things look easy as she maneuvered a cumbersome organization through its paces. There is no doubt she will leave a legacy and a hard act to follow.

Debra Holder has been a mainstay in the green industry for all these years. We hate to see her go, but we all wish her good luck.

But let?s go back in time a bit?25 years ago.

Can you picture the landscape industry 25 years ago? In those days it was male dominated, and into this male dominated industry enters a young girl who begins a job as a receptionist, with an organization called the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA). That was February, 1980.

Starry, wide-eyed Debra Holder never dreamt she would some day become Chief Executive Officer of this national organization. In fact, over the years, she has gone through the chairs and truly helped make this organization grow.

Holder married her high school sweetheart, Larry Dennis, while she was still in college. Upon graduation from the University of Georgia they moved to the Washington, D.C. area because her husband felt there were more opportunities for them.

She had been working at ALCA for 10 years, and in those 10 years she had seen four executive directors come and go. When asked by Ron Kujawa, ALCA president at that time, if she was going to apply for the position, being shy and lacking the confidence, she responded that she didn?t think so. Kujawa told her that if she didn?t apply for the position, she should not complain when they hired someone new. Kujawa remembered, ?I flew to Washington, D.C. and sat with Debra in a hotel for hours trying to convince her that she was the right person for the job. I felt she would do a great job.? Encouraged by her husband Larry helped make up her mind and she applied.

Holder made it to the four finalists. ?There were three other outstanding candidates,? Kujawa stated. ?But Debra stood out head and shoulders above the others.? Holder said, ?It was one of the happiest days of my life when the search committee and the board of directors told me that I came out the winner. That was in November, 1989.