The history of the Whitley County Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Center
The Whitley County Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Center got its start in 1919 as The Commercial Development Club under the leadership of H. B. Clugston, its founder and first President. The organization continued under that name until July 1951 when the club reorganized and officially became The Columbia City Chamber of Commerce under the leadership of Paul Morsches. The newly organized Chamber of Commerce met quarterly, with their primary goal to attract tourism.
In July 1953 the Chamber was instrumental in establishing Chain O’ Lakes State Park. To generate a better cash flow, they formed the “Eager Beavers Club” in which they were encouraged to pay their dues early in order to be considered an Eager Beaver. Membership soared to 165. By the end of the 1950’s the Chamber was made up of 8 committees: The Youth Committee, the Fish Fry Committee, the Eager Beaver Committee, the High School Building Committee, and the Industrial Development Committee, the Recreation Committee, the Civic Affairs Committee, and the county’s first economic development group. The Chamber started meeting monthly in 1958.
In 1962, the Chamber and the Lions Club worked together to get the Courthouse dome illuminated at night. At this point, the Chamber had 191 members and the Chamber name was officially changed to the Columbia City Area Chamber of Commerce. In 1976, the Community Facilities Committee raised money to build a medical building for four new doctors coming to town. In 1980, Dick Haworth was hired as executive director. He was the first to suggest the idea to honor a Citizen of the Year and Outstanding Service to the Community Award for Columbia City. At this time, the Chamber office was located on the second floor of City Hall before it was remodeled. Glenn Frank was executive director from 1986 through 1995. The Chamber moved from a two-room office on Main Street to the much more spacious office suite on South Chauncey across from the Court House. A part of Glenn’s job was to sell lots in the city’s new industrial park. He was very instrumental in getting one of the lots designated at that time as Indiana’s only wetland property within city limits — a space now enjoyed by visitors to the Peabody Library.
When Glenn Frank retired in 1995, the Chamber hired Dan Trenary as the executive director and Pat Hatcher as the executive assistant. Following Dan’s departure, Pat Hatcher was then hired to be the executive director. The Chamber was, at that time, located in a historic home at 201 North Line Street in Columbia City.
In 2009, work began to investigate the prospect of becoming a county-wide chamber. The chamber board voted to pursue this direction and in March of 2010 the name was once again changed and became the Whitley County Chamber of Commerce. This reflected the merger of the Columbia City Area Chamber of Commerce and the South Whitley Chamber of Commerce. The chamber also made a move to 518 Garland Avenue, Suite A, in Columbia City. Sara Goff was hired as executive director, followed by Doug Brown. The Whitley County Chamber of Commerce reorganized with a new board of directors whose members were representative of the different communities.
In 2016, Jennifer Romano became the executive director and soon the organization became the Whitley County Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Center. They moved the organization to a larger space on the north side of the courthouse square in downtown Columbia City at 128 West Van Buren Street in Columbia City. The new space included the addition of a visitors center, expanded conference room space, co-working space and new programs aimed at highlighting and promoting members as well as the community. Jennifer Romano retired from her role as executive director of the Chamber in January 2022, after helping the Chamber successfully navigate a pandemic and ensuring the Chamber was in a strong financial position.
Past Board Presidents
Columbia City Commercial Development Club 1919-1949
1919 H.B. Clugston 1920 Sam Trembley 1921 Sam Trembley
1922 H.F. Romey 1923 H.F. Romey 1924 David Walter, Sr.
1925 H. M. Miller 1926 H. M. Miller 1927 H. M. Miller
1928 H. M. Miller 1929 H. M. Miller 1930 Milton Lorber
1931 Jim Adams 1932 Jim Adams 1933 Glenn Mosher
1934 Glen Mosher 1935 Tom Hood 1936 Tom Hood
1937 Edgar Strouse 1938 Edgar Strouse 1939 Edgar Strouse
1940 Edgar Strouse 1941 Russell Pence 1942 Russell Pence
1943 Royal Clapp 1944 John Whiteleather 1945 Nile Schrader
1946 Nile Schrader 1947 Lawrence Mason 1948 Leland Williams
1949 L.L. Stevens
Columbia City Chamber of Commerce 1950-1961
1950 Benton Bloom 1951 Paul Morsches, Sr.
1952 David Spence 1953 Jack Hancock 1954 Edwin Heupel
1955 David Walter, Jr. 1956 Carl Anderson 1957 Milton Schubert, Jr.
1958 William Thomson, Jr. 1959 Charles Argerbright 1960 Jack Stine – Ben Gates
1961 Dr. Warren Niccum
Columbia City Area Chamber of Commerce 1962-2009
1962 Harry Bennett 1963 Donald Alberty
1964 John Gastel 1965 Paul Martin 1966 Herschel Aumsbaugh
1967 Tom Hardaway 1968 James Long 1969 Samuel Reynolds
1970 Kenneth Wright 1971 Jack Karch 1972 Joe Lumm
1973 James Teghmeyer 1974 Otto Behrens 1975 Robert DeMoney
1976 Michael Rush 1977 Keith Dowell 1978 John Mulholland
1979 Richard Berglund 1980 Richard Houser 1981 Carl Sederlund
1982 Carl Sederlund 1983 Bill Emmert 1984 Don Heiden
1985 Don Heiden/Gary Mitchell 1986 Gerald Hazelet 1987 Greg Fahl
1988 John Hatcher 1989 Valynnda Slack 1990 Tim Sutton
1991 Gail Hively 1992 Larry Graham 1993 Kay Fleck
1994 Earl Rogers 1995 Don Sexton 1996 Don Sexton
1997 Dick Buchanan 1998 Greg Hockemeyer 1999 Jill Winebrenner
2000 Mike DeFreeuw 2001 Steve Moore 2002 Linda Hyndman
2003 David Smith 2004 Carrie Gates 2005 Matt Rentschler
2006 Doug Brown 2007 June Keiser 2008 Jack Moore
2009 John Meister
Whitley County Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Center 2010 –
2010 Mike DeFreeuw 2011 Mike DeFreeuw
2012 Jennifer Zartman Romano 2013 Jennifer Zartman Romano
2014 Scott Gabriel 2015 Scott Gabriel
2016 Dawn Boyd 2017 Dawn Boyd
2018 Mike DeFreeuw 2019 Mike DeFreeuw
2020 Gary Parrett 2021 Gary Parrett
Chamber Hall of Fame Award Recipients –
Rex Schrader Kay Fleck
June Keiser Greg Fahl
Tim Hearld (posthumously)
Randy Grimes Gary Parrett
Lindsey Hively (posthumously)
Ken Lundquist Jacie Worrick
Ann Fahl Doug Brown