Stephen Wade Hembree was the “go-to man” for anything Lake Linganore-related, his passion for and knowledge of the area unparalleled, friends and neighbors said.
“Anytime anyone had any questions about Lake Linganore, Stephen was the person to talk to,” said Jill Coleman, who lives across the street from the Hembrees.
Many remembered the 62-year-old New Market resident as a kindhearted gentleman who cared deeply about Lake Linganore; they lamented his death on Saturday after a boating accident on the lake he so loved.
“He was just a great guy,” Coleman said. “It’s a very tragic way to die, given the way he lived.”
Those who knew him said Hembree was a caring man with a wonderful sense of humor and friendly demeanor who served in many capacities — community activist, conservationist, husband, father and friend.
“He was certainly beloved in the community. ... He had such a love for Lake Linganore and was quite a visionary in trying to implement a lot of good and positive changes,” Coleman said.
As a neighbor of the Hembrees for seven or eight years, Coleman said her family knew Hembree, his wife, Katherine, and their 16-year-old daughter through their interactions at neighborhood cookouts and birthday parties as well as through Hembree’s role in the Lake Linganore Association.
Over the years, Hembree served as project development specialist and general manager. He also completed two terms as a board of directors member of the Lake Linganore Association, the local homeowners association. In addition, he dedicated his talents and time to the Lake Linganore Conservation Society, where he worked on a stormwater management project to improve roads in the area.
“One thing about Stephen is even if you don’t always agree with him, he was always a gentleman,” Coleman said. “He was under fire ... under pressure as a board member ... but he always seemed to keep his cool.”
Blaine Young, former Frederick County Commissioners president, recalled Hembree as a passionate activist for the Lake Linganore community, applauding the Florida native’s efforts to improve the infrastructure of the lake.
“He wasn’t a person that just came home and shut the door,” Young said. “He really cared about the community as a whole, with many others, and was very dedicated and passionate about seeing that vision completed.”
The two met more than a dozen years ago before Young became a Frederick County commissioner, Young recalled, and the two men shared a similar interest of meeting Lake Linganore’s wants and needs as a community.
Although many questioned why Hembree and eight teens ventured onto the lake Saturday afternoon after heavy rainfall earlier that day, Young said he could guess the answer.
“I can guarantee he wanted to bring a smile to [his daughter’s] face,” Young said. “He was just always trying to please people.”
Hembree’s generosity was something Cecily Ashbaugh, a former resident of the Lake Linganore community, will never forget. After her husband died from cancer in 2006, Hembree and his wife stopped by Ashbaugh’s house to make sure she was OK and help in any way they could.
“The kindness that he showed me when my husband passed away ... not everyone does that type of thing nowadays,” Ashbaugh said. “It was so nice of him to take an interest and be there for me.”
Ashbaugh first got to know Hembree through his wife about 20 years ago, and occasionally interacted with him through their roles with the Lake Linganore Association.
“Throughout the years I ran into him on occasion and he always had kind words for my family and me,” she said in an email. “As part of the LLA Finance Committee I had the opportunity to see his knowledge and love for his village and the community in general.”
Ashbaugh served on the finance committee from 1990 until about 2012.
Kelly Schulz, Maryland’s secretary of labor, licensing and regulation and a resident of Lake Linganore, said she also knew Hembree through his work with the Lake Linganore Association.
“He was very dedicated to his job, and loved the community where we both lived,” Schulz said. “It was very apparent in his dedication.”
Schulz applauded the association’s notifying the community of Hembree’s death and the organization’s actions to honor his life.
“Yesterday tragedy struck Lake Linganore,” a notification read. “Not only was a family member taken too soon, but a past employee of the Association, volunteer, and much more. Today the LLA flag is at half-staff in honor of Stephen Hembree.”
The organization held a moment of silence and a seven-gun salute in honor of Hembree on Sunday.
“Everyone in the community appreciated that type of a response,” Schulz said. “Whether anybody knew him personally or not, it was still someone from our community ... having that support from the entire organization, for me, represented what we are.”
To Lisa Hartman, Hembree was a friend in “a very small community where you just know different people.”
“They’re my extended family,” Hartman said of the Hembrees. “I’ve known them for many years.”
In addition to his official roles in the Lake Linganore community, Hembree also spearheaded and participated in neighborhood events such as beach parties and holiday celebrations.
“Every Fourth of July, Steve would help celebrate the holiday by assisting with our fireworks show, something that became quite the tradition over time,” Bill Jones, a friend of Hembree’s, said in an email.
Jones met Hembree several years ago through mutual friends who lived at Lake Linganore.
“Our families, especially the kids, always looked forward to the good times associated with the cook-out festivities, capped off by an impressive fireworks display,” Jones said in an email. “He is certainly going to be sorely missed by many.”
Coleman recalled Hembree was “a lot of fun at a party,” noting his relaxed and fun personality made any time with him enjoyable.
“We’re praying, and we believe that somehow, it’s pulling the community together,” Coleman said. “It’s very heartbreaking.”
Hembree’s immediate and extended family declined to comment.
Staff writer Jeremy Arias contributed to this report.