Chamber employee retiring after 40 years


The Greater Seymour Chamber of Commerce’s events have been ingrained in Gerri Smith’s mind.

The annual dinner, chamber picnics, ag breakfast, golf outing and One Chamber Christmas — she has done the behind-the-scenes work to ensure they go off without a hitch.

Every other year, there’s also the Jackson County Women’s Conference, and the first Savor Jackson County was conducted in 2016. The chamber’s agribusiness committee also runs a petting zoo at Kids Fest in the spring and offers an ag or industry tour in the fall.

And in her early years, when the chamber oversaw Oktoberfest, she had a hand in the organization of that festival.

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Starting in 2018, however, Smith will be able to attend these events and not have to worry about planning them.

That’s because at the end of this year, she’s retiring after 40 years with the chamber.

“I think that’s always going to be something special in your heart,” Smith said of helping plan events that serve chamber members and the community.

“They may have to change things and do things differently, but it does give you a little sense of pride and joy when you know you had a hand in it and you’ll see how they handle it and how they’ll do things,” she said. “I’m sure it will be a learning process for the new person, but it will be something that she’ll make her own, and she’ll end up being just as proud as I am one of these days, so that’s good to know.”

A retirement open house reception honoring Smith is set for 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday at the chamber, 105 S. Chestnut St., Seymour.

Chamber President Tricia Bechman said it will be a time for people to thank Smith for her years of service.

“You don’t hear about people working at one place for 40 years anymore ever,” Bechman said. “I think it’s just unique that it’s the chamber because you do get people that have been in one profession for 40 years, but they’ve been in this business and that business, not in one place.

“That’s pretty awesome that she felt the dedication to the chamber, and everything that she has done for the Seymour chamber over the years, it’s pretty great,” she said.

After graduating from Seymour High School in 1970, Smith said she worked a few part-time jobs until starting full time at the Seymour Police Department. She was the department’s first meter maid and later became the chief’s secretary.

About a year into the latter position, she learned about an opening at what was then known as the Seymour Chamber of Commerce.

“On my normal route every day (as a meter maid), I would stroll by all the businesses downtown, sometimes stopping in to say hello,” Smith said. “I would talk to them all of the time, so when I found out there was an opening (at the chamber), they encouraged me to put my application in.”

On Oct. 26, 1977, she was hired as the chamber’s office manager.

Her duties included creating the monthly newsletter and sending it out to chamber members, bookkeeping and taking the minutes at chamber board and committee meetings.

She used a hand-cranked machine and then a typewriter before computers came along to put the newsletter together.

In recent years, the chamber has sent out a weekly newsletter by email, and Dee Smith took over that task.

“It’s altogether different,” Gerri said. “It’s very creative. They put a lot of graphics in it.”

Until Bechman became president three and a half years ago, Gerri also sent out notices for Seymour Industrial Corp. meetings, took the minutes and corresponded with shareholders.

About five years ago, Gerri’s job title changed to membership services director.

“They did that in hopes that maybe I could help sell memberships,” she said. “We were growing as a chamber, were so active, but I never did have much time to get out of the office to do that because we were so busy.”

Gerri said the chamber had about 75 members when she started. Once the name changed to Greater Seymour of Commerce in the 1980s, membership could include those who serve the area and do business in the city.

Membership was close to 480 at one time and now is around 340, Gerri said. It has fluctuated with places going out of business or changing ownership.

Also, as chamber presidents have changed, they had to develop relationships with current and potential chamber members.

“Back in the day, you belonged to the chamber because it was a prestigious organization to work with businesses and help them, and it was an honor to be a chamber member,” Gerri said.

That has changed over time, she said, as some people don’t understand the concept or purpose of the chamber, which is “to serve as the catalyst for the advancement of commerce, culture and the community.”

Gerri said it’s key for chamber members to become invested and active and know what’s going on.

“We keep striving and looking for new programs and ways to benefit the members,” she said.

In her capacity, Gerri also helped coordinate events and obtain sponsors for them.

“That has kind of been my forte because I worked a lot with all of the businesses and made those relationships, so I’ve been very fortunate when I needed a sponsor for anything, however small or large, I was usually able to get it,” she said.

Of all of the events she had a hand in, Gerri said the Jackson County Women’s Conference stands out because she helped start it. It began as an annual event before switching to every other year to help land major speakers.

The venue also changed, and businesses were encouraged to give their administrative professionals a half-day off to attend the conference.

“We kind of planted the seed, and we formed a small committee, and it has been really well-received,” she said. “They’ve really come up with some phenomenal ladies that have shared their stories. That has been a real treat.”

In her career with the chamber, Gerri said she has been fortunate to work with five presidents, several different co-workers, board and committee members and numerous chamber members.

“I am blessed to have worked with many chamber members in the last 40 years, and I want to thank them for supporting my work here at the chamber,” she said. “Whether it was through their dues investment, sponsorships or donating their valuable time, I want them to know how important they are to me. I will miss them all.”

A couple of years ago when she was thinking about retiring, Gerri said she switched to working four days a week.

Having worked since she was 14, starting at A&W, she decided this year that it was time to retire.

She had some encouragement from her husband, Art.

“He goes, ‘Enjoy it. You’ve worked enough. Just go have fun. I’ll have to work another 10 years, but that’s fine. You just go on and enjoy it,'” Gerri said.

“I thought, ‘OK, you don’t have to tell me more than once. I’m out of here,'” she said, laughing. “I think it was just time. Not that I was getting stale or anything, but I just think you just kind of know, and my health is still good.”

Even in retirement, Gerri plans to stay busy.

She likes to play golf and is involved in a couple of card groups. She also is president of her sorority, Delta Theta Tau, and is active at Redeemer Lutheran Church.

Plus, she will have more time to spend with her daughters and grandchildren, who live out of state, and family and friends in the area.

“I will stay busy, and I’m not worried about that,” she said. “I’m sure it will be a process, and it will be a change, but at this point, I’m kind of looking forward to it each and every day as it gets a little closer.”

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”Smith file” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

Name: Gerri Smith

Age: 66

Hometown: Seymour

Residence: Seymour

Education: Seymour High School (1970)

Occupation: Recently retired after 40 years with the Seymour Chamber of Commerce/Greater Seymour Chamber of Commerce, having served as office manager and membership services director

Family: Husband, Art; four children, Chris, Wendi, Jami and Lanci; seven grandchildren, Kendra, Kaleb, Megan, Jalen, Schep, Nash and Dodger; and two great-grandchildren, Sophia and Izzy

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What: Retirement open house reception honoring Gerri Smith for her 40 years of service

When: 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday

Where: Greater Seymour Chamber of Commerce, 105 S. Chestnut St., Seymour


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