United Way building to bear name of retiring president, Olivia Garren

Olivia Garren retired Wednesday as president of the United Way of Horry County and leaves behind a 39-year legacy – as well as a building in her name.

The agency’s home was dedicated Wednesday as the Olivia F. Garren United Way Building, which was a surprise gift for Garren during a reception where she was celebrated by numerous community partners and friends. The building will feature a plaque with Garren’s likeness, which expresses gratitude for her “unwavering love for the people and communities of Horry County.”

“This is too much – I didn’t expect this,” Garren said. “It’s absolutely amazing and humbling. I can’t put into words how I feel right now.”

Garren was born and raised in Horry County and has spent her whole life in Conway. She joined United Way of Horry County in 1975 as part-time secretary for its board, never imagining she would become the face of the agency and guide it for so many years.

“She’s just a hero to all the nonprofits, and her heart is as big as she is,” said Jim Dumm, executive director of Tara Hall Home for Boys in Georgetown.

Garren said she has mixed emotions about leaving the agency, but she’s definitely excited, and that it’s time for new ideas and energy to come in. She looks forward to spending more time with family and friends, and said she knows the leadership is in the right hands with new president Genie Sherard, who is coming to the agency from the United Way in Detroit.

“Her shoes are about this big,” Sherard said, opening her arms wide.

Tracy Lee Vreeland, one of Garren’s colleagues at United Way, said she started her job in August and wishes she’d had more time under Garren’s direction.

“I’ve never met anyone as caring as she is,” Vreeland said. “It’s going to be hard to see her go.”

Garren had a ready response for well-wishers, who inevitably asked her, “What’s next?”

“Tomorrow, I’m going to do nothing,” she said, “then I’ll figure it out.”