Former Forest Grove Chamber of Commerce director steps in to fill gap

Ray Giansante was puttering around his house the afternoon of Tuesday, Nov. 20, when he got a call from Mike Hundley, vice president of the Forest Grove Chamber of Commerce: The chamber might need a little help. Could Ray come down to the office?

The chamber board had just fired Teri Koerner, its executive director for five years, due to financial mismanagement. According to Hundley, the search for a new director may not start until February.

Meanwhile, the board has turned to Giansante, who directed the chamber from 1997 to 2001. Giansante, 77, was a counselor and English teacher at Forest Grove High School before retiring in 1997. He talked with the News-Times last week about his unexpected return to directing the chamber on an interim basis.

Q: What director duties were suddenly left undone with Teri Koerner’s departure?

A: That afternoon we didn’t know exactly. It took a little time to figure out the different computer system, how to access the email — simple things, but I’m old and not that computer literate. Wednesday (Nov. 21) I came in and pretty much wandered around and poked in drawers, getting the lay of the land — membership checks that needed to be deposited, emails to answer, meetings to attend ... that I haven’t attended. We had our tree-lighting ceremony that Friday evening (Nov. 23). The first priority was to get enough cookies and cider for that event. We had 130 people. The lovely ladies at the Senior Center — Linda Hamilton and Janet Anderson — were just wonderful. They decorated on kind of short notice because Teri had evidently told the director over there that she had it all taken care of.

Q: Are board members plunging in to take on new roles in Teri’s absence?

A: Monday (Nov. 26) at noon I met with the entire board for the first time. It was an excellent meeting. There was such great support and positiveness. They made a list of people who could fill in for me when I’m not here.

Q: Is it mainly board members stepping forward or rank-and-file members too?

A: Regular members too. I had a member come in today who said, ‘Am I paid up? If I’m not paid up, invoice me. If we haven’t paid the last year or so, let me know. We’ll pay that too.’ Four or five have called, and that’s not counting the people I see on the street. They say, ‘Call me. And I mean it. Let me know what I can do.’ So far I say, ‘I don’t know enough yet to be able to tell you how to help.’

Q: Does the energy and generosity surprise you?

A: No. I have always been amazed by the people in this community. We have the Concours (d’Elegance car show), we have the Corn Roast, we have all these (chamber-sponsored community events) that take huge numbers of volunteers. And people just show up.

Q: What’s the most challenging task now that Teri is no longer around to do it?

A: There are so many. We have the wine raffle that’s currently underway, so we have to continue to promote that. Members have tickets to sell. They’re $5 apiece. We distribute 150 bottles of wine and there are five winners. The drawing will be at our luncheon on Dec. 17. We ask all the members to donate at least one bottle of wine. (Right now) I have about 24 bottles.

Q: Any other big tasks?

A: We’re concerned about our annual dinner auction, which is scheduled for March 2. We need to start that process now. We have to have everything in place in January when the procurement committee will begin calling members and merchants to ask for donations. (But) with Christmas coming and the holidays, it’s going to be a little hectic. The wine raffle’s a fun thing — I started it when I was here — but the dinner auction is our major fundraiser of the year. We (need to) get the committees in place.

Q: Do you know how long you’ll be filling in here?

A: No. My wife would like to know as well. She thinks it’s great. She said, ‘I think you needed something to do.’ It’s a challenge, and I do like the challenge. But I miss just sitting around in my pajamas drinking coffee in the morning.

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