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Van Wert, the Sequel
By Tony Ahern
The Board of Directors for the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce looked for a while, but didn't look far in finding a replacement for former Executive Director Parrish Van Wert. They just asked the lady standing next to him if she wanted the job.
OK, it didn't exactly go down that way, but the final effect is the same. After six years of Parrish Van Wert at the chamber's helm, the directorship is staying in the same household as Holli Van Wert, Parrish's wife, is taking over.
If the board's top priority was to find someone to head up its two main events -- the Collage of Culture and the Fourth of July -- they made a great choice. Holli Van Wert seems to have unlimited energy and a dogged determination to get things done, whether it be raising $100,000 in sponsorships or getting someone to volunteer as a target in a pie-throwing contest.
Shortly after Parrish took the position with the Madras state prison, Holli was up front about wanting her husband's old job. Her apparent "tryout" was exhaustively working to make the Collage of Culture -- an event she co-coordinated with her husband -- a success. From my vantage point, the only thing she didn't do was keep it from raining.
Being aggressive and hard-charging gets things done, and also creates detractors. The chamber director position is as political as any nonelected job in the county. Holli certainly knows that, or soon will.
Sequels and second terms are rarely as good as the first. For every Godfather II, there's a hundred Caddyshack IIs. But given a choice between an outsider in a suit who would come in, sit behind the executive desk and alienate half the chamber by telling us we're doing everything all wrong; and someone who is home-grown, has a proven track record as tireless hard worker, and has an idea of where we've been and where we want to go -- I'll take the second.
In this case, it's the second Van Wert.
With even more growth and change looming, now is a vastly important time in the Madras-Jefferson County region. The community, through the board which hired you, is putting a lot of faith in you, Holli, and is handing you a significant challenge.
But our community needs to forget Holli Van Wert is following her husband into the job. We need to allow her to forge her own style, make her own mistakes, and enjoy success in her own right.