Friday, December 01, 2000

Lebanon chamber head has big plans


Small-town atmosphere appeals to recent arrival from Chicago

By Jenny Callison
Enquirer Contributor

        LEBANON — Bells are ringing for Wilma Grace.

        Not just the constant ringing of the telephone in the office of the Lebanon Chamber of Commerce, where Ms. Grace is the new executive director. There's also the anticipated jingle of sleigh bells on more than 100 horse-drawn carriages parading down Broadway during the city's annual Christmas Festival on Saturday.

[photo] A self-described “city gal,” Wilma Grace became executive director of the Lebanon Chamber of Commerce on Oct. 10.
(Dick Swaim photo)
| ZOOM |
        Since Ms. Grace began work Oct. 10, overseeing the festival has been a top priority, and she said it's been a great way to meet people. But she's already thinking about goals she'll pursue long after the jingle is gone.

        “One of the main things is to find out what our members need that they're not getting,” she said. “Another is increasing our membership. Lebanon is growing so tremendously.”

        New to the area herself, Ms. Grace is sensitive to the perceptions and needs of folks moving into Lebanon and its environs.

        “We need to accommodate new people, preserving a delicate balance of growth and a small-town atmosphere, which is part of why people want to move here,” Ms. Grace said.

WILMA GRACE
   • Age: 63.
   • Experience: Managed specialty stores in the Chicago area. Owned a gift and decorative accessories shop.
   • Education: Attended schools in Peoria, Ill.
   • Family: 10 children and stepchildren.

        Ms. Grace also wants the chamber to serve each sector of the business community equally. That's one reason the chamber hired her.
       

"City gal' feels at home
               “She had a lot of experience that helps her relate to a lot of our members,” said search committee member Al Hardy, who is also the chamber's president. “She has also managed quite a few people and has good interpersonal skills. She can relate to both visitors and merchants.”

        The new director is a self-described “city gal” who moved to Waynesville from Chicago a year ago. She chose Waynesville because a friend of more than 30 years lives there. Now that she's taken the position in Lebanon, she has become equally enthusiastic about this community.

        The chamber, in turn, is enthusiastic about her extensive retail and public relations experience. In addition to managing a chain of hotel shops, she operated her own tea room and gift shop and did volunteer work for two Chicago-area chambers of commerce. And, said Mr. Hardy, Ms. Grace is willing to learn new skills.

        “She's taking a grant-writing workshop, something we've needed for a long time so we can do a better job of requesting grants,” he said. “Both she and (chamber staff member) Sara Arseneau are always upbeat. We're looking forward to what they can accomplish.”
       



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