At Home with Marisa Olszewski

Marissa Olszewski and her family | Photo by David Stuck
Marissa Olszewski and her family | Photo by David Stuck

Marisa Olszewski’s Sparrows Point home reflects her deepest passions.

There’s the sliding barn-style accent door in the dining area, natural wood tones reflected in the outdoor furniture, pops of green and blue in the soothing paint treatments and furnishings that communicate a rustic coastal vibe that’s down to earth with a focus on nature.

The casual coziness of this home belies the fact that it’s the residence of a well-known Baltimorean—a dedicated community-driven environmental warrior and wife to Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski.

Although their home nods to reconnecting with nature, Marisa Olszewski says she doesn’t mind being in the public eye. In fact, their 6-year-old daughter Daria—ever the performer—loves it. She shares with Baltimore Style a glimpse into her life and what got her to where she is today.

Rooted in Nature

It all started in a largely rural town in the northeastern corner of Connecticut.

“Were there actually more cows than people?” Olszewski jokingly asked her mother. She said no—about the same number as the 3,000 to 4,000 residents in Woodstock.

But “the last green valley,” as it was known by its greenery to the pilots who flew over it, no doubt influenced Olszewski’s early interest in environmental stewardship.

Her parents were not farmers, but her father worked in dairy sales. She remembers seeing a lot of dairy herdsmen catalogs arriving in the mail. People were supposed to identify the best cow based on its features—kind of like The New York Times crossword for dairy folk, she says.

Woodstock also had the second largest state fair in Connecticut, and the agricultural influence was strong.

“My dad was also a big nature guy—I mean he still is,” she says. “He’s always pointing out birds, and he would take me on nature walks, or I’d go canoeing with him.”

Today, her love of nature has grown into a passion for sustainable change. Olszewski recalls in the seventh grade finding a career profile of an environmental scientist who split time between field research and influencing legislative work in Washington, D.C.

“I was fascinated and went home that night to declare to my parents, ‘I want to be an environmental lobbyist!’” she shares.

Nearly four months into her latest role as Maryland League of Conservation Voters’ (LCV) environmental policy manager, her work has included supporting the Choose Clean Water Coalition through a Federal Lobby Week and developing programs to support endorsed environmental champions running for office in Maryland.

While not technically a lobbyist, this role combines her two passions—environmental advocacy and political engagement—and she “couldn’t be happier,” she says.

To Whom Much Is Given, Much Is Expected

Connecting nature with advocacy stems from Olszewski’s propensity toward service. The phrase “to those whom much has been given, much is expected” always resonated with her, she says.

“I’ve had a loving family. I grew up in a nice home in a nice neighborhood. I’ve always felt loved and cared for and like my needs were met,” she explains. “It’s given me a perspective of concern for people for whom that’s not the case every day.”

Longtime college friend Georgeann Nedwell says Olszewski applies the same intentionality to personal relationships. While Nedwell was dealing with medical issues, Olszewski made sure she ate well, had good company and was invited to family events.

“She really is so uniquely kind and generous with everything that she has, and especially with time,” Nedwell says.

In middle school, Olszewski’s father once took her on a weeklong spring break trip anywhere they could drive in a day, and surprisingly she chose Baltimore.

“To me, Baltimore was interesting and different because it was more of a southern city for a girl from New England,” Olszewski says. And northeastern Connecticut did not have a history of civil rights or the backdrop of a historic city on the Chesapeake Bay.

Years later, she found Goucher College was the perfect incubator for her community service bug.

Unlike her experience on a previous college tour, no one at Goucher rolled their eyes at her when she said she volunteered on the weekends for fun. The school had a strong service learning focus and a student organization dedicated to community service.

Olszewski says her understanding of social issues grew significantly, and she took many opportunities to get involved in Baltimore—especially at Habitat for Humanity in Baltimore’s Sandtown- Winchester neighborhood.

Growing in Leadership

Over the past decade, her involvement has expanded into a number of leadership roles, including being on the board of directors of Baltimore County Neighbor Space and Dundalk Renaissance Corporation, where she served two years through AmeriCorps.

She also served on boards of local Methodist church organizations, the Patterson Memorial Trust and Lovely Lane Methodist Church.

Getting involved from the ground up at local environmental organizations prompted her to go back to school for a master’s degree in biology at Hood College.

One of those organizations was Herring Run Watershed—one of several that would one day become Blue Water Baltimore—in which she helped lead a Project Clean Stream cleanup as an intern with only two staff members.

In 2011, she became one of the first staff members at Robinson Nature Center in Howard County. She would grow within that organization for 10 years.

“Very quickly, I came to realize that she was like a jack of all trades,” says nature center colleague Meagan Downey. From exhibits and teaching programs to managing the financials, she knew how to do it all.

Without being judgmental or nagging, she was always presenting other options—like how to avoid bird strikes without significantly changing the architecture.

“She was not afraid to tell people you could do (something) better,” Downey says.

Family Life

Home life for Olszewski involves raising a 6-year-old—and much like it is for other working moms, it’s a balancing act.

With Johnny’s public appearances, her schedule has been more flexible to transport Daria to ice skating, recreational soccer, basketball and a gymnastics-dance studio.

“She is very active and interested in many, many things,” Marisa says. “Part of how I see my responsibility as a parent is just to give her all the opportunities that I can.”

But both parents lean heavily on their support systems—their parents, grandparents and other friends and neighbors.

Although life can be busy, they find time to be together as a family.

Daria loves the zoo, the Maryland Science Center, Port Discovery Children’s Museum, the B&O Railroad Museum and WTMD’s Morning Tunes. They borrow 15 to 20 books from the library each week and spend time in nature at North Point State Park.

Sometimes work does blend into home life, but it can be fun, such as when Johnny would sometimes encourage Daria to come in while he was filming at-home TV appearances during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wherever Daria’s passions lead her, Marisa hopes her daughter will see the value of being a working professional as a woman. She is already charitable and nature-loving—the same as her parents.

When Olszewski was working at the nature center, her job was an inspiration to Daria.

“She said, ‘Well, Mommy, you kind of help animals at your nature center, and I’m going to help animals, too, when I’m a veterinarian.’”

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