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Hernando chamber director resigns

Wanda Kelly was executive director of the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce since 1997.

By SAUNDRA AMRHEIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 26, 2000


After more than three years on the clock as the spunky leader of the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce, Wanda Kelly has punched out.

The announcement surprised members and staff alike when it was made during the chamber's monthly breakfast Wednesday at the Golden Corral on U.S. 41.

John Ehlenbeck, chamber president, broke the news during breakfast. Kelly, the executive director since May 1997, did not attend and could not be reached for comment.

After the breakfast, Ehlenbeck said Kelly submitted her resignation to him Tuesday, to be effective immediately.

"She told me she's going to take some time off and, to my knowledge, has no immediate plans," he said.

Ehlenbeck said her departure was entirely voluntary, personal and had nothing to do with this month's mishap at the Hernando County Rodeo and Barbecue, when the chamber's carnival arrangements fell through at the last minute.

Though Ehlenbeck said he did not see the resignation coming, he's not surprised, considering the line of work.

"I guess it seems for whatever reason, you don't see chamber directors around for more than four to five years," he said.

He attributed that to burnout.

"There are so many different factions to deal with, everything from membership to the board of directors to committees, to just everyday stuff," he said. "You're being pulled in a lot of different directions."

Ehlenbeck said he plans to form a committee Thursday to start looking for a replacement, a process he hopes is completed by the end of the year.

"We do have a very capable staff and strong board of directors, and I don't expect (the more than 1,000) chamber members to suffer," he said.

When Kelly, 42, was hired for the post in May 1997, she had been involved in chamber work for 13 years. She attended the University of Central Florida and trained for chamber jobs at the Institute for Organizational Management.

She launched into her career as an administrative assistant at the Melbourne/Palm Bay Chamber of Commerce in 1986. She left there to become the president of the Greater Seminole County Chamber of Commerce from 1993 until 1995, when the board of directors asked her to leave, saying the chamber was looking for more of a showy salesman for the office and less of a "micromanager."

Before Hernando hired her, Kelly was executive director of the Greater Sanford Chamber of Commerce since 1995.

The Hernando staff was as much in the dark about Wednesday's news as the board.

"We know just as much as everyone else," said Janice Schlaich, the chamber's program and events coordinator.

One board member and past president, Gus Guadagnino, said he was not at all surprised by Kelly's move. "I don't know what took place that led to this decision, but when I heard this morning that she has resigned, it didn't shock me," Guadagnino said.

As incoming chamber president at the time, he took Kelly to dinner four years ago when she was hired to talk about her goals.

"She said that five years down the road; she said, "I'm not sure I'll be in Hernando County,' " he said. "At that time, she gave me the impression that a chamber executive director is nothing she wants to retire from. But she did want to be a chamber troubleshooter (across the state)."

Though Guadagnino said he was concerned at the time about her lack of commitment to longevity, Kelly welcomed the challenge posed by the organization during a bumpy period following the merger of separate chambers.

"She came into what I would consider a brand new chamber," he said.

She was instrumental in starting a chamber office in Ridge Manor, leaving her Hernando Beach home at 6 a.m. to hold meetings on the east side of the county, he said.

Kelly also helped kick off an outreach program with banks and hospitals on methods to better reach member businesses. During her tenure, an education committee was started to learn what is being demanded of college and high school graduates by today's business world.

"She did accomplish some good things," Guadagnino said. "She had a lot of spunk."

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