The loss of Ellen Spears as executive secretary of the Elkins-Randolph County Chamber of Commerce is a grievous one indeed. Spears has done a remarkable job with the chamber since she became executive director four years ago.
Over the course of those years, she initiated many new and invigorating programs that gave business owners and operators opportunities to network across business and professional boundaries, and social events providing opportunities to become reacquainted with old friends and make new ones in the business world. She had an endless energy for promoting our businesses and worked indefatigably to attract new ones to our area.
Membership grew steadily for the first three years of her stewardship. It became stagnated over the last year or so because of the economic recession, but everyone was looking forward to an acceleration in member growth within the next year. Unofficially, there were 214 members when she took office. The membership grew to 280 in 2008 and has since sagged to 249.
"My goal was to get the membership to 300, but sadly, I never made it," Spears said.
Spears had a special talent for consistently arranging interesting and informative speakers at the quarterly meetings and brought many business operations experts to Elkins to speak to area business leaders on important matters relative to success in business. One of her popular initiatives was the "Business After Hours" events that she arranged through and with the cooperation of businesses. These were great fun events providing opportunities for owners and managers to showcase their business whether it was old and well established or a new one starting out.
Her crowning event each year was the Membership Banquet and Awards Presentation Ceremony. Gov. Joe Manchin and his wife honored this year's ceremony in April by greeting each recipient after they received their award. I would venture to suggest that no other chamber of commerce in the state was fortunate enough to have our governor and first lady stand on stage for 40 minutes greeting their award winners.
The chamber will survive and business will continue "as usual." It's the "as usual" part that's troublesome. Without strong leadership at the helm of the chamber, I fear that's exactly what will happen - it will be business as usual.
Over the past four years, Elkins has seen a tremendous growth in tourism thanks in great measure to the American Mountain Theater and the Durbin and Greenbrier Valley Railroad. Because of these two attractions, Elkins is on the fast tract to becoming a tourist destination as opposed to just a stop along the way. These two businesses cannot, however, survive forever on their own. Kenny Sexton, owner and producer of the AMT, will be the first to tell anyone who asks that the best thing that could happen for his theater would be to have another theater in Elkins.
"The more variety we have, the greater and wider the appeal," Sexton said.
Hopefully, yes indeed, hopefully, Spears' replacement will have the same community spirit and tireless energies to keep the business community headed toward prosperity in the years to come. The business community has lost one of if not its strongest leader and visionary. Sad indeed.
Marvin Hill, director of the Randolph County Office of Emergency Management, announced at the monthly Local Emergency Planning Committee meeting on Wednesday that there will be a meeting on Sept. 1 and 3 in the Randolph County Court House Annex conference room regarding the county's E-911 Mapping and Addressing.
"The purpose of the meetings is to permit all Randolph County citizens to review the mapping and addressing road-name database and to assure the proper road name is assigned to their road," Hill said. "Maps covering the entire county will be available for viewing.
"After these meetings, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to change or correct road names," Hill added. "I strongly urge everyone who is or thinks they may be affected by this program to attend one of these meeting."
Other subjects of interest taken up at the meeting were the receipt of the OEM's Shelter trailer. The trailer and its contents were purchased with a $32,000 Homeland Security grant. It is equipped with 110 army-type cots, linens, pillows and blankets for as many people as well as hygiene kits for both adults and children plus many other items for use in the event of emergencies and/or catastrophes.
Hill also announced the addition of Greg Hiser to the OEM's staff. Hiser will serve as administration assistant to Hill. According to Hill, one of his first priorities is to establish a Web site for the department.
"He comes to us with an extensive background in information technology. We are fortunate to have him on our staff," Hill said.
The Elkins-Randolph County Chamber of Commerce announced this week that this year's Christmas Parade will be on Dec. 4, commencing at 6 p. m. It seems like it's a bit early to start talking about Christmas, but as always, it will be here sooner than we think.
The Elkins Depot Welcoming Center gave local residents, and a few visitors, another venue of entertainment Thursday evening with its first concert at the Town Square. "Appalachian Jazz," a local group of talented jazz musicians featuring soloist Erin Young, entertained more than 100 people during their two-hour show. Young is a student at Davis & Elkins College and is married to Seth Young, a member of the band.
Ed Griesel, president of the Welcome Center's board of directors, said, "When we started looking for a way of providing another form of entertainment, we discussed several possibilities and decided on bringing live entertainment to the town square. We had no idea whether or not the idea would work, but we have a great turnout this evening. About midway through the program, we counted over 100 people enjoying the show and many more have stopped to listen at least for a few minutes during their evening stroll. We are tremendously pleased with the turnout for our first concert.
"We're not sure whether we'll have another concert this year, but we do plan to start them again in early spring and continue them throughout the summer and fall months of next year," Griesel said. "We will have to evaluate this evening's performance and see where we go from here."
Many passers-by were heard making favorable comments not only about the entertainers but also about how nice it was to sit outdoors on a pleasant evening and listen to talented artists perform. Ellen Spears and her daughter, Lauren, stopped by for a visit during their evening walk.
Spears said, "We need more of these types of relaxing and entertaining events in Elkins. This kind of entertainment is so much like those Europeans enjoy in their evening and weekend hours of relaxation."
Having spent time in Europe and the Mediterranean while in the U.S. Air Force, I couldn't agree with Spears more.
Mother Nature even lent a hand by providing a spectacular fireworks display along the ridges to the west. Organizers of the event feared the storm would bring the evening to a early and soggy ending, but it stayed far enough away so as not to interfere yet came close enough to provide a touch of natural beauty to the evening.
Appalachian Jazz is regularly featured at El Gran Sabor restaurant along with occasional nationally recognized musicians that drop in on Wednesdays and Fridays. Music usually begins around 7 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.