About Us

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