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Holcomb Memorial Scholarship to support aspiring agriculturalists, conservationists

Tue, Oct 12th 2021 10:00 am
Don and Bern Holcomb
Don and Bern Holcomb

For the Holcomb family, life and work on their family farm in Portville was everything.

Donald Holcomb and his wife, Bern (Clayson), operated Butternut Farms, a 600-acre farm that spanned the border of Cattaraugus County and Allegany County.

Don and Bern raised three children Risa Michienzi, Suzanne Pedretti and Ted Holcomb on the farm.

Risa Michienzi remembered that there were always local kids around, helping with the work on the farm and learning more about agriculture.

But for Don, farming extended well beyond those 600 acres, as he was heavily involved with helping area kids learn more about agriculture through 4H, by helping to establish the Swine Project and more.

A new scholarship recently established at the Cattaraugus Region Community Foundation in memory of Don and Bern Holcomb will support the next generation of aspiring agriculturists and conservationists in Allegany and Cattaraugus counties.

The Don and Bern Holcomb Memorial Scholarship, which will be first awarded in 2022, will be for high school students from any high school in Cattaraugus or Allegany counties who attend an accredited post-secondary institution (can be 1-, 2- or 4-year school/college). The student should be in good academic standing. Financial need will be considered. Preference is for a student majoring in an agricultural- or conservation-related field, a vocational/technical field or a female pursuing an engineering degree.

For the Holcomb’s children, Risa, Suzanne and Ted, the scholarship is a way to remember their parents and give them the recognition they always deserved for their service to the community through agriculture, community involvement and volunteerism.

“Dad always wanted to be known for something, and for him farming was everything,” said Risa Michienzi. “So for us this is a way to pay it forward to students who are interested in agriculture and conservation.”

In the way that Don and his family loved farming – he was a third generation auctioneer, served as previous director of the Cattaraugus County Fair and helped establish the Market Pig Program for the Cattaraugus County 4-H club, just to name a few things – it is fitting that the scholarship can help pass that love on to a new generation.

He also loved to spend time in the woods and was a dedicated conservationist, according to Risa Michienzi.

The scholarship also honors Bern’s skill set by giving preference to a female student interested in pursuing a degree in engineering.

“My mother and her family were very mechanically inclined, and she could do more (mechanically minded) things than my father could,” said Risa Michienzi. “She was always said that had she grown up in a different time she would have been an engineer.”

Bern worked at AVX in Olean for 28 years before her retirement.

In her spirit, the scholarship will also honor the mechanically inclined students of the area pursuing a career in a vocational/technical field.

“Kids now a days are so often pushed towards academics, but the world needs vocational people like electricians,” said Michienzi.

CRCF Executive Director Karen Niemic Buchheit applauded the Holcombs’ children’s work in preserving and perpetuating their parents’ legacies.

“What Risa, Suzanne and Ted have done by establishing this scholarship and designing the award criteria this way is really beautiful,” said Buchheit. “Every piece of this scholarship and its criteria honors their parents in a special way. People like Don and Bern might not have been as widely known as they could have been in the community for their work, but they did so much in the fields they love and deserve to be recognized and remembered for it.”

Donations can be made to the Don and Bern Holcomb Memorial Scholarship Fund at CRCF, 301 North Union St., Suite 203, Olean, NY 14760 or online at cattfoundation.org.

Established in 1994, the Cattaraugus Region Community Foundation is growing good by connecting donors to the causes they care about most in the region. Grants from the foundation support many areas, including education, scholarships, health care, the arts, community development, human service, and youth development. To learn more, call (716) 301-CRCF (2723), email [email protected], or visit online at www.cattfoundation.org. CRCF is also on Facebook (facebook.com/cattfoundation) and Twitter (@CattFoundation).