In July 2007, the Woodburn Independent ran an article stating that the Woodburn Area Chamber of Commerce executive director and office manager had both resigned. I turned to my wife, Rhonda, and said, “They’re going to want you to come back as office manager and they’ll take me as executive director as part of the bargain.” Sure enough, within the hour, our phone rang and the caller ID was the chamber board president.

When we started on Aug. 1, we eventually determined that the chamber was more than $50,000 in debt, representing more than 50 percent of their previous year’s total budget.

We recommended a plan to the board to begin working out of this situation, which was implemented immediately.

Then the recession hit in late 2008, severely impacting our member dues.

After reduced office and staff hours, enhanced fundraising efforts and occasional employee furloughs, we’re proud to report that the chamber is now completely debt free with money in the bank. Whew! It took us six years in these “temporary” jobs but we have finally succeeded in our primary task and can retire with our heads held high.

One of our first suggestions was to establish Woodburn Area Tourism (WAT) as a separate part of the chamber with its own budget, financials and checking account.

This enabled us to be better stewards of the public funds entrusted to us by the City of Woodburn to bring more visitors to our area. The efficacy of this move was demonstrated by the signing of our second three-year contact with the city earlier this year, which provides a lump sum payment in advance to run the Visitor Information Center at the Woodburn Premium Outlets, and to operate the website and fund other efforts to promote area events and attractions.

Perhaps I’m most proud of the chamber’s positive working relationship with the City of Woodburn. The WAT agreement is but one example. We’ve also participated in the Downtown Renovation Plan, the Urban Renewal efforts, development of the Woodburn Economic Plan, the 99E Corridor Plan and, of course the I-5 Interchange Project, and I’ve proudly served on the city’s budget committee for several years.

Our most extensive partnership was to “save” the Fiesta Mexicana. When the city stepped up to run this event in 2010, the chamber willingly volunteered to help. When, at their suggestion, we took the lead role for 2011-2013, they provided invaluable logistical support as we learned the ropes of managing a three-day festival with our part-time staff. I’m very pleased that the chamber board has voted to continue the chamber’s stewardship of Woodburn’s historic cultural festival.

The challenge going forward is to expand these partnerships to our other cities of Gervais, Hubbard and now Donald. We began earlier this year with quarterly meetings of economic development folks from each city to share ideas and begin building regional cooperation. My successor will be tasked with continuing this effort to retain and attract business to the entire Woodburn area.

During these six years our events have continued to prosper, thanks to the hard work of many volunteers and our sponsors. The Distinguished Service Awards (First Citizen) banquet in March, sponsored by Silverton Health, honors the amazing contributions of community leaders from Woodburn, Gervais and Hubbard. Our annual Walmart-sponsored golf tournament in June provides a day of fun and prizes for dedicated outdoor enthusiasts. We recently held our 12th annual Crystal Apple Awards honoring excellence in local education, thanks to the support of Maps Credit Union.

No mention of the Woodburn Chamber would be complete without discussing our signature Greeters program on Friday mornings. While other chambers have similar networking opportunities, no one can match our “comedy club on steroids” where the emphasis is on fun! As one participant said recently “My week isn’t complete without Greeters!”

It’s been an honor and a privilege for Rhonda and me to serve the chamber and our communities these past six years. When asked why we’ve dedicated so much of our “retirement” years to these jobs, Rhonda said “because chamber is our family!” When we see a new business join and thrive, or a long-existing business starts participating and grows even more, we swell with pride.

Many people have said how much they’ll miss me, but in reality they will miss Rhonda much, much more. While I’ve sometimes been the “face” of the chamber these past six years, she has done all the work behind the scenes on events, programs and keeping the office running, many times working off the clock, while I basked in the glory (the story of our 40-year marriage). If anyone deserves the credit for our six-year turnaround it is our office manager and my life partner, Rhonda Judson.

I’ll close by writing new lyrics to the familiar song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” which I attempted to sing at the Dec. 6 Greeters (be glad if you weren’t there):

Of all my years in chamber these memories come to me:

  • Twelve Crystal Apples

  • Eleven thousand laughs at Greeters

  • Ten yearly Forum Lunches

  • Nine(ty) board meeting minutes

  • Eight(y) DSA and golfing memories

  • Seven board presidents

  • Six annual budgets

  • Five tourism coordinators

  • Four Fiesta Mexicanas

  • Three Leadership Woodburns

  • Two different chamber offices

  • And GREAT people whose friend I’ll always be!

    Thank you!

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