By DAVID DUPONT
BG Independent News
After 10 years on the job as executive director of the Bowling Green Chamber of Commerce, Earlene Kilpatrick still gets goosebumps when the awards for individuals and businesses are handed out.
The July 20 Mid-Year luncheon will be her last time to preside over such festivities. She’s leaving her job with the chamber on Oct. 1, exactly 10 years from the day she started.
That was on the cusp of an economic crisis that gripped the country. Bowling Green wasn’t spared, but it has bounced back.
Looking back, Kilpatrick said: “It’s been smooth. It’s been truly a fantastic experience.”
That’s despite long hours, and the occasional disappointment. Twice in recent years the Holiday Parade has been canceled. Her husband, Claude Kilpatrick, has teased her that those will be her legacy.
That’s hardly the case.
“She’s really done an amazing job of growing the chamber to what it is today,” said Jerid Friar, president of the chamber’s board of director. “I would have to say things are more clearly defined than they were. The direction we’re headed is a very positive one.”
He praised the way she’s developed new programs, such as the Michael Brown personal development workshops and events such as the business after hours gatherings.
This has helped strengthen participation, Friar said. The organization’s annual golf outing, its largest fundraiser raised a record amount this year.
Kilpatrick said that overall the membership has increased slightly, though she feels investors’ engagement with the group has increased.
“It’s a very intense job,” she said. It can involve 50 to 60 hours a week. “But it’s very rewarding … You create friendships along the way.”
She feels satisfaction in working with the chamber’s project teams, or city ad hoc committees, and university town-gown efforts.
And she’s proud of the more than 3,400 volunteer hours people devoted to the chamber as well as the efforts of ACT BG raising money for charities.
The opening of the Four Corners Center in the former Huntington Bank has lived up to its goals. The building houses the chamber, Downtown Bowling Green, Bowling Green Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Bowling Green Community Development Foundation.
The arrangement allows the agencies to better collaborate and direct business from one to the other.
Kilpatrick arrived at the chamber from Main Street BG, now Downtown Bowling Green.
During her 10 years leading that group the city completed Heritage 2000, a downtown revitalization project. Her role was to keep open the lines of communication between the city and the business community. Now some of those changes are having to be updated.
“We still see a lot of entrepreneurs, and as a community we are blessed to have generational businesses that are still strong. We still have a vibrant downtown,” she said. “We see positive dynamics between the town and university.”
But, she said, that “maybe after 10 years it’s time for new leadership to take the chamber to the next level.”
Kilpatrick said her decision to leave her job was prompted by her husband’s decision to retire after 31 years with the Wood County Board of Developmental Disabilities. “Claude’s retirement got me thinking about what our future would be like together,” she said.
They have parents in their 80s, and two grown sons, Quentin, completing a doctorate in sociology in New York City in New York City, and Conner, an assistant director of intramurals and recreation at St Leo University in Florida.
Kilpatrick is not going far. She’ll step up her activity with the Women’s Club and the First Christian Church, and she still has a soft spot for the chamber.
After a few months, she expects she’ll be back on the job market, though seeking part-time work.
“She’s going to be tough to replace,” Friar said.
The job has been posted with interviews expected to begin in early July. The board, Friar said, would like to have the successful candidate in the job by Sept. 1, so Kilpatrick has time to mentor her successor.
The bard is looking for “an outgoing, energetic person who has a passion for seeing Bowling Green, the businesses and community thrive.”
Someone that is, not unlike the current director.