A small town like Holly Springs is often rich with history—Union troops occupying a ridge on the south side of town, losing most of the town’s men in the Battle of Gettysburg, field hospitals created in homes along Avent Ferry Road, etc. But oftentimes the unsung heroes of our times are under our noses, quietly making a real difference for our community in the most unassuming of ways.
Barb Koblich has worked for the betterment of Holly Springs since she moved to town in 1993. A native of Lancaster, New York, Barb came to North Carolina when her husband accepted a job with an air conditioning company in the Raleigh area. When looking for a house, she discovered Holly Springs on a map she received from the Raleigh Visitors Bureau. She loved the name, and very quickly fell in love with the rural community, with its rolling fields and farmhouses and small-town feel. Her realtor, however, refused to show her any homes in Holly Springs.
“I found another realtor on the sly and asked her to show me what was available, and within a couple of days we had found a house in Remington,” she smiles. “We loved being able to run out and pick up a biscuit, the Sunday paper, gas and groceries all in the same place!”
Soon after arriving in Holly Springs, Barb and her husband Gary went to their first Chamber of Commerce event. Bill Rousseau brought the Chamber in a cardboard box! It didn’t exist in its own space – it was literally carted from event to event in a box! Barb volunteered to be the executive director and approached then mayor Gerald Holleman for some donated space. Holleman granted her space in the old municipal building, which used to be located next to the Holly Springs Mini-mart. With the help of a Chamber member, Barb was able to secure a three-legged desk with a resident mouse in the bottom drawer, and shared the space with the Woman’s Club Library. “It was pretty pitiful,” she laughs. “It had one window AC unit, and I remember having to turn off the window unit when I had to make or take a call so I could hear the person on the other end of the line!”
Membership grew, and Barb organized the first Business After Hours and first Eye-Opener breakfast meeting. She established the Citizen of the Year award and gave the first couple of awards away.
Then, in 1996, Hurricane Fran blew through and flooded the little cinderblock building. The Chamber was “back in the box” and looking for a new home. Once again, Mayor Holleman came to the rescue and let Barb set up shop on the porch of the old furniture store that was serving as the town hall. The porch had no heat or air conditioning, but it was workable. Shortly after moving in, Barb was offered a part-time job as a customer service rep in the finance department. She worked for the town and the Chamber concurrently for about a year before transitioning to a full-time position with the Town.
Thirteen years ago, when the new town hall was constructed, Barb was transferred to a position in town clerk’s office, which included serving as the main greeter for visitors to Town Hall and preserving town history. She still serves in that position today – a testament to her tenure as a town employee.
In addition to her long-standing commitment to town service, Barb has been an involved member of the community on several other levels. A couple of years after moving to town, Barb attended her first Woman’s Club meeting, and she became a charter member. During her 20-year stint as a member of that now-disbanded organization, Barb served as President twice and over time served in every officer role except that of Treasurer. “I did a little of everything,” she says. “It was an amazing group of ladies who worked hard to make Holly Springs a better place to live and raise a family. I loved my time with them!”
Her passion, of course, was the Heritage Day Dinner, which brought all the older ladies from around town together once a year for a meal and story-telling. “I helped with that event every year, and I loved listening to all the stories they told,” Barb explains. “My love of history was sparked every year when I sat and listened to them talk about the Holly Springs of old. I looked forward to it every year.”
The Woman’s Club worked on many different projects during its 20 years. They cleaned up Main Street from downtown to Sunset Lake Road, they planted azaleas in several locations around town, and they mentored schoolchildren, among other activities.
Barb has always had a love of history, especially local history, and in 1995, she started a small historical society in Holly Springs. Without much help, it didn’t grow legs until after Hurricane Fran and some new residents came to town. Residents like Lynanne Fowle, Cynthia Ellison, and Bill & Claire Rousseau stepped up in 1997 to rejuvenate the organization, and it continues to exist today. Now called the Holly Springs Historical Preservation Society, it has organized cemetery walks, seminars, springs clean-up days, and other smaller projects. The Society has a Facebook page, and actively shares items of historical interest for its 600 members.
Most notably, Barb is the author of a recent book on the History of Holly Springs. “It was truly a labor of love,” she shares. “I spent hours collecting material, scanning photos, and compiling stories.” Because it is a town project and she is a town employee, she is not listed as the author on the book itself, but she did the majority of the work on the project and is very proud of the final result.
Barb is also a wife and mother. She and her husband will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary in June of this year, and she is the proud mom of a son and two daughters – and FOUR grandchildren! Several years ago, she and her husband downsized their home and moved back to their roots – purchasing a house over the Harnett County line in the rolling farmlands she loved so much when she first moved to Holly Springs. “I love Holly Springs, and I know growth is inevitable, but I miss the rural landscape and that’s where I want to retire and watch my grandchildren grow up,” Barb admits. “But my heart is still here, and I have several years to go before I retire. Holly Springs is still my go-to place.”
As a 20-year resident of town, Barb is amazed at the changes she has seen over the years. “I remember when it was a 1-supermarket town, and it took forever to shop because you kept running into people and had to talk with everyone! I remember when we had to drive to Cary for everything!” she laughs. “I can’t remember the last time I HAD to drive to Cary. I love that we have so many restaurant, shopping, and health care choices here now.”
Barb also loves her tenure as a town employee. “I’ve watched people’s lives change over time as they come to pay their water bills every month. Especially what I call ‘old Holly Springs folks’ – the ones who still come in to pay in person every month when their social security check arrives. Seeing the same people every month for 20 years touches the historian in me – listening to their stories and staying connected to them.”
Barb is still a few years away from retirement, but is already anticipating what she’ll do when she has more time on her hands. She hopes to spend more time with her grandchildren and travel a bit. With her love of genealogy and her knowledge of the history of this area, she hopes to continue to be a resource for people doing research. “People travel here looking for information about their ancestors or cousins in their family tree,” Barb explains. “I would like to continue helping people make connections between the generations here in Holly Springs.”
The next time you have a need to drop by Town Hall, be sure to say hello to Barb Koeblich at her desk in the foyer, and thank her for her service and years of dedication to Holly Springs. In a town of transplants, Barb is one that embraced this community early on and made it her home by getting involved and contributing to its development as a vibrant, healthy community. We applaud her work and recognize that Holly Springs is a better place because of her efforts.