By ALISSA SCOTT
Mike Decker paid a visit to Liberty's art room Wednesday where a group of residents was crafting Christmas ornaments.
Maggie Rodriguez was pasting a photo of the police department onto an ornament for the Christmas tree at City Hall when she stopped, visibly saddened. She said she's going to miss Decker, Liberty Enterprises' chief executive officer, stopping in to see what they're up to.
Decker announced he is leaving in January after accepting a similar job in New York City, an opportunity that he said came up unexpectedly.
"We had a great time with you, and I'm proud of how far you've come," Rodriguez told Decker. "I'm going to miss you."
"How far all of us have come," Decker responded. "I'm going to miss you, too."
Decker, a lifelong area resident who has been with Liberty for 24 years, announced he has accepted a position as chief operating officer of AHRC New York City beginning in early January.
Liberty is Montgomery County's primary provider of services for adults with developmental disabilities.
There, he said, he will do much of the same he does at Liberty because the agency has a very similar mission and is also a NYSARC chapter.
"It's just going to be a little larger community," Decker said of the agency that serves 15,000 individuals in NYC's five boroughs with the support of about 5,000 employees.
Decker became Liberty's second CEO in January 2012, taking over for Frank Capone.
"I'll always remember how when he first came, I would always call him Frank," Colleen Irish, another resident, said. "But I can't think about it. I can't help it, but I just tear up."
Ken Adamowski, president of Liberty's board of directors, said the foresight of Capone and Decker has helped build a staff that believes in the agency's vision and has also left it solid financially.
"Mike Decker has been an outstanding leader and has brought a great deal to the organization before and after he assumed the role of CEO," Adamowski said.
Having lived in the area his whole life, this is a big move for Decker, he said, and it will be hard to say goodbye.
"I'm very fortunate to have served Liberty's important mission over the past 24 years," Decker said. "Making this transition provides some additional opportunities and challenges that are very exciting, including expanding the impact I can have on the lives of others. Despite having this challenge and opportunity presented to me, it was a difficult decision."
The search process for his replacement has begun, Adamowski said last week.
Amy Devendorf, art instructor at Liberty, said Decker has always supported the art program, though Decker wouldn't take credit for the program's inception or success.
"I'm very sad to see him go," Devendorf said. "New York is very lucky to have him."