Mary DePuew Kamm has always been a pacesetter.
First female president of the Cary Rotary Club. Second female chair of the Cary Chamber of Commerce … and so much more.
With an extensive list of civic and volunteer roles to her credit, it seems service is Kamm’s calling.
“My mom was always volunteering, at school and at church,” she explained. And her dad, who worked for the FAA, firmly believed in his role as civil servant, “here to help.”
A former Wake County probation and parole officer, Kamm was among the first North Carolina State University graduates to earn sociology degrees with the then-new criminal justice concentration, in 1974.
A master’s degree in sociology and statistics led to work within NCSU’s College of Engineering, and she also found success in real estate.
But when her husband, Art, formed his own clinical research firm in Cary, she decided to join him, as vice president.
“One of my strengths is interpersonal communication,” Kamm said. “That gave me opportunities with client relations, diffusing situations and making sure their needs are met.”
These skills would prove useful as Kamm dove into chamber and civic work.
“Art’s philosophy, and mine, was that as a corporation, we should give back to the community,” she said.
“I was the interface for that. It gave me an opportunity to be involved.”
Kamm’s efforts have earned her the titles of 2004 Cary Citizen of the Year, 2008 Wake County Commissioners’ Outstanding Volunteer and 2007 Center for Citizen Initiatives’ PEP Distinguished Volunteer, for her role in a vocational exchange bringing Russian professionals to the U.S.
A longstanding member of the board of Communities in Schools of Wake County, Kamm is also past president of Cary Visual Art, and even ran for mayor.
“I’m a tremendous advocate of Cary,” she said. “It is such a caring, active community of people that want the very best for their community, and that includes making sure no one is left behind.”
Kamm’s wide-ranging volunteerism was disrupted by a leukemia diagnosis in 2005; she suffered a relapse two years later. But her commitment was unwavering.
“It didn’t change my philosophy on helping others,” she said. “What it did was cause me to say, ‘All right, Mary, you’ve got to find that two-letter word that hasn’t been in your vocabulary — no — and focus on just a couple of things.’”
She chose to continue working with two organizations close to her heart: Rotary International and Cary Family YMCA.
“I’m an avid supporter of the WeBuildPeople program,” Kamm said, describing YMCA of the Triangle’s annual fundraising campaign. “One hundred percent of the money goes to outreach programs for children — after-school tutoring and summer camps. We hear from parents and teachers who say, ‘You are making such a difference.’ It raises us all.”
She’s also proud of her work with the Cary Rotary Club.
“I can’t say enough about the good Rotary does, not only excellent work in the community, but also with its international efforts,” she said. “I’d always wanted to be part of making a difference in the world.”
Kamm, the club’s 2005 Rotarian of the Year, first female president and a Paul Harris Fellow, has also served as assistant district governor. Highlights of her Rotary service include participation in a hunger relief mission to Africa.
“To see the faces of the children and elderly people, as we brought relief,” Kamm said, “the positivism and joy they took from life, even though their circumstances are nothing like what we experience, was just amazing.”
Kamm credits the support of Art and the four grown children of their blended family for seeing her through her illness, so she can continue to give.
“One thing you take away from the experience we had is to take time to sit outside on the patio and enjoy the birds and each other,” she said. “Every day’s a blessing.”
This summer, the Kamms celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary with a six-week trip, visiting national parks across the country. They sing in the Hillyer Community Chorus, enjoy the ballet and symphony, Hurricanes hockey and Wolfpack sports.
“The family’s got to come first,” Kamm said. “You want to make sure you have wonderful memories. I’m very proud of our 20 years together, and of our children.”
Community service is largely about being in the right place at the right time, Kamm said.
“It’s looking at how things connect, listening to people’s needs and finding something to help,” she said. “It’s never one individual — I’ve worked with great people along the way.”
The rewards are great, from feeding the hungry to handing a child his first book.
“I’m very fortunate to be working for causes I enjoy, and I’ve had the added benefit of meeting wonderful people in the community,” Kamm said. “You always get back so much more than you give.”