Board of Directors

Our board is comprised of a group of dedicated volunteers whose interests and passions range across wide arcs.

“I grew up on Lake James and learned a great deal about what it means to protect the lake from my father Dr. William L. Bell, who was one of the founding members of the Lake James Environmental Association. I have moved back to the area after a 27 year career in Technology and Finance, retiring from Verizon in 2016. Our family enjoys the lake, hiking, biking and horseback riding the surrounding areas and we want to preserve the natural beauty of the area as much as possible for future generations to enjoy. I am also on the Board of Directors of the McDowell Trails Association and the McDowell Economic Development Association.”

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I recently joined the LJEA board because I appreciate how much work has been done by the LJEA and others to keep Lake James clean. When guests visit Lake James, they immediately comment on the beautiful water.  I hope to bring my experience in organizational, operational and strategic planning to the board. One of my personal goals is to help lake owners realize what a treasure we have, and involve them financially, and personally, in preserving our clean lake for decades to come. 

Chip Whitfield

"I was first made aware of LJEA through its Kids in the Creek program. From there I discovered LJEA’s many environmental community programs and joined. Later, I  was voted onto the board where I am currently Secretary. I very much enjoy working with Kids in the Creek and Riverfest."

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Bob Brendle has been a resident at Lake James for over 20 years with lake history for 40 years. He has always loved the lake, working around it and spending time on it.  He hopes to help LJEA work to protect it.

Bob has served as a member of the McDowell County Planning Board for a number of years and will try to apply his efforts there to make sure the quality of the lake is not harmed.

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“Having just retired after 38 years with Wells Fargo Securities, the last 19 spent as Managing Director and Senior Credit Officer for Mortgage Finance, I hope to bring a unique perspective to LJEA. While other philanthropic organizations focused on the environment currently exist in the wider area, I am motivated by the fact that LJEA is dedicated exclusively to protecting the quality of Lake James and its surrounding environs.

With regard to my service on the Board, my particular areas of interest include longer term strategic thinking, third party outreach/engagement, and enhanced data collection and analysis. In the immediate near term, I plan to focus my energy on identifying silt sources and the critical issue of sedimentation.

My wife Susan and I discovered Lake James and the surrounding area in 2006.  We were struck by its natural beauty and couldn’t believe a special area such as this was located less than 100 miles from Charlotte.  Access to all it offers including swimming, boating, hiking, backpacking, and just enjoying being outside fits our lifestyle. We built our weekend home here in 2012 and have been dividing our time between Lake James and Charlotte ever since.”

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"I grew up on Lake James and my father was one of the founding Board Members of the Lake James Environmental Association. I graduated from Appalachian State University and Logan Chiropractic College and I have a Chiropractic practice in Marion, NC. I live on the lake with my wife Susan and our two children Chandler and Olivia. Like my father, I believe the Lake and the watershed are an important asset in this area that we should protect."


Mike is a North Carolina native. He has more than 45 years of military experience in many capacities for the USAF, including 27 years active duty and 24 years at the 14th Weather Squadron in Asheville, NC—part of a team of national scientists archiving and managing the world’s largest collection of weather and environmental data. “I've been on the lake since 2003 and want everyone to have the same enjoyment it has brought me and my family.”

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Vicki is midwest born and has been a barefoot gardener since childhood. She is a proponent of reduce, reuse, recycle. She loves any creek, river, lake, ocean or raindrop. She spent 30+ years in Florida sand, and now hopes for 30+ years in NC clay.

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"I see my role with LJEA as assisting educators and our board members with educating others about the goals of our organization of protecting and preserving our waterways and environment. To help accomplish this, I help recruit volunteers, acquire needed equipment, and help organize Kids in the Creek type activities for educators in McDowell and Burke Counties. I help LJEA organize and staff our booth at public events like McDowell STEAM Expo and the Catawba Riverfest. I captain a boat with student and adult volunteers during the annual lake cleanup."

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"I am a High School Environmental Science teacher who has been with Lake James Environmental Associated for 5 years.  My major role is to be a liaison between the organization and the community, especially the youth of Burke County.  I get the community involved in service projects like the Lake James clean-up, River Fest and monitoring Radon levels in Burke County.  This year I have also helped to create a Kids in the Creek event for my students, volunteers from the community and members of LJEA.

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Marshall is a water resources engineer with over 45 years experience who doesn't know how to retire. He moved to Burke County in 2009 but has family history in the region that reaches back to pre-Revolutionary war.   His interest in LJEA stems from its support of the Kids-in-the-Creek program that integrates science, an appreciation of environmental stewardship, and hands-on learning.  Marshall currently serves as chair of the Citizen Science Committee. 

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I grew up in Wisconsin and spent most of my childhood outside playing in forests and creeks. Consequently, I knew I wanted to be a biologist for as long as I can remember. After receiving my undergraduate degree in Biology, I chose to specialize in water pollution ecology at the University of Washington where I received my Masters and Ph.D. Today, I actually consider myself a generalist. I have been in the Biology and Environmental Studies departments at WWC for the past 27 years teaching courses such as Ecology, Aquatic Ecology, Field Natural History, Introduction to Environmental Studies, Mycology (Fungi), and a field-based natural history course in Alaska. Outside of academics, I am the leader of the Warren Wilson Archery Club. I love all things wild and have a strong interest in obtaining my own food from gardening, fishing, hunting, and collecting wild mushrooms and berries.

Mark Brenner

More to come!

A scientist by training, I moved to Lake James from NY State following my retirement as a pharmaceutical facilities & real estate executive. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying boating, kayaking, swimming, and fishing in the Lake, and as we all know, the hiking in this area is amazing.

Lake James and the beauty surrounding us are truly a treasure—a treasure that needs protection and care. This will require input and involvement from property owners, the community-at-large, regulatory agencies & government, and businesses & utilities within the watershed. I hope to bring my leadership and strategic experience to LJEA to assist with government and public/private advocacy and LJEA strategy development.

Joanne Deyo

Ivy joined Lake James Environmental Association in January 2021. She grew up on Lake James in Holiday Shores. Ivy is the former Tasting Room Manager and Event Planner at Catawba Brewing Company and currently works as the Practice Administrator at Mountain View Pediatrics, P.A. Ivy graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Management from Appalachian State University. Her goal is to help educate and create community awareness for LJEA’s purpose and goals. 

Ivy Johnson

My name is Maggie Vaughn! I am a senior at McDowell High School and an online student at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. I have lived on Lake James my entire life and thoroughly enjoy spending time on the water. I appreciate the fact we have access to a lake that is both beautiful and clean. As a member of the Lake James Environmental Association, I hope to share my love for the lake with many and contribute to the conservation of the area for future generations.

Maggie Vaughn

Hello! My name is Lauren Church. I am a senior at Freedom High School and I am dual enrolled at Western Piedmont Community College through the CCP program. I love hiking and being outdoors. I play soccer and golf and I also enjoy water and snow sports. I have lived on Lake James for the majority of my life and I have grown to love the views and culture surrounding my home. I have also spent several summers working at Lake James State Park where I gained an appreciation for our beautiful and clean lake. As a joining member of the Lake James Environmental Association, I hope to immerse myself in more of the abundant culture of Lake James and share a common interest with other citizens of my town.

Lauren Church

"After retiring here, I joined LJEA in 2003 to help preserve the cleanliness and beauty of Lake James – the organization’s mission since 1973.  Subsequently, I’ve participated in the long-standing water sampling program, annual lake cleanups, fighting an interbasin transfer (IBT) to keep water from leaving our Catawba River basin (possibly causing lower lake levels in drought), relicensing of Duke Energy, drought rule development, environmentally responsible rezoning of Crescent lake property and relocating a proposed shooting range. I was president of Lake James Environmental Association from 2009 through 2016 and have been fortunate to work with many professional, dedicated volunteers.  Newer programs and projects include: 1) supporting science education in McDowell and Burke county schools to help prepare next generation water stewards, 2) PCB testing of fish tissue from Lake James, and 3) seeking silt sources and mapping silt movement as it fills in the lake. This may be the most important program for the lake’s preservation."

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Nora Coffey is the Superintendent of Lake James State Park. She acts as an interface between LJEA and the Park, helping coordinate collaborative activities such as RiverFest, Lake Cleanups, and educational outreach activities like GearUP and Kids in the Creek.

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Judith M. Francis, AICP, has been involved in land management activities in Florida, Colorado, and North Carolina as a landscape designer, planning director, and project manager. She currently serves as the Western Programs Coordinator for the North Carolina Department of the Environment and Natural Resources Office of Land & Water Stewardship. In that capacity, she leads statewide conservation planning efforts, assists local governments and private sector partners in achieving their conservation objectives through ecological and economic analysis, establishes new partnerships, and identifies funding opportunities.

Executive Director

Sophie McCarthy joined LJEA as a Director on the Board when she moved to Morganton in 2015, and was hired in the Executive Director capacity in the beginning of 2020. Sophie has a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies from UNC-Asheville and worked previously as the Outreach Coordinator for the Sassafras River Association on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her interest and focus on water quality and protecting our waterways was honed while working in the Chesapeake Bay region, but she has always been passionate about protecting the environment and loves hiking, mountain biking, and being outside.

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