An era comes to an end for the Union County Chamber of Commerce April 1, when Judy Loudermilk steps down as executive director.
Union County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Judy Loudermilk is leaving her post April 1. - The Observer/BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH
Loudermilk, at the chamber helm the past nine years, said this week she is leaving for personal family reasons. She declined to elaborate, but did say she will be moving to Sunriver.
“Sometimes you have to make a decision like this, and I finally did,” she said.
Loudermilk had served on the chamber board and had helped organize the Union County Ambassadors program when the executive director’s job came open in 1999. She decided she might be able to do some good as the chamber’s top officer.
“When Bill O’Connor was leaving, the opportunity was there so I took it,” she recalled.
It was a challenging time, since the chamber and Union County Tourism, up to then one entity, were separating, Loudermilk said.
“Most of us felt tourism could operate more effectively independent of the chamber,” she said. “That was a major change as I was coming in. The separation made it easier to operate, but you had to be careful about funding.”
Beyond that, there were no sweeping changes to chamber structure. Loudermilk said she built on existing programs, improving them and aiming for increased participation.
“Mostly I didn’t do anything different. I developed what was already there and moved it forward a bit,” she said.
Among many programs that that have continued on her watch are Union County Leadership and Business After Hours. Recurring events like the annual chamber banquet and the Farmer-Merchant Banquet have gone on as well.
A couple of new programs have gotten under way during Loudermilk’s time as director. The chamber is active in the La Grande Downtown Renaissance Committee and is a primary sponsor of the Support the Troops program, a program spearheaded by Loudermilk herself.
Support the Troops, formed during the local National Guard unit’s 2004-2005 deployment to Iraq, offers financial and other assistance to military families with members on active duty.
Beyond regular programs and events, the chamber tries to be a force for positive change in the community. Loudermilk said the work requires many hands; no one person can take credit for the accomplishments.
“The chamber does not work alone. It works with partnerships and as part of committees,” she said.
As executive director, Loudermilk has helped develop and nurture partnerships with school districts, Eastern Oregon University, Work Source Oregon, the Training and Employment Consortium and others.
With the La Grande School District, the chamber at election time puts on candidate and issues forums at the middle school.
Eastern and the chamber work together to welcome new students to the community. And Work Source Oregon is a partner in the Employer Fair held at EOU in the spring.
“Those are just a few examples of our partnerships,” Loudermilk said.
Loudermilk also pointed out the chamber’s work on social, political and economic issues important to local citizens. Committee members attend meetings of the Eastern Oregon Rural Alliance
“We’re taking stands on issues that affect our county, like the Forest Service travel plan and a lot of the farm-related issues,” she said.
Loudermilk also said she has enjoyed supporting business and economic development efforts in the outlying towns.
“We’re fortunate that we can represent the whole county. The Union County Board of Commissioners has helped us with that by allotting us money to represent the smaller communities,” she said.
Looking back, Loudermilk said a highlight for her has been a chance to work in a generous, caring community.
“It’s the people you meet and work with. When you come together and make a successful program, that’s the best feeling,” she said.
“It never ceases to amaze me how generous the people of Union County are. That’s what I’ll miss the most. I hope everyone applauds themselves for what they do. They’re outstanding.”
Though she is moving away, Loudermilk will remain a partner in BGL Event Planners, a company that organizes and coordinates events at the Blue Mountain Conference Center.
Loudermilk’s successor at the chamber is yet to be named. The chamber plans to advertise the position in local and statewide publications.
Loudermilk said she is willing to stay past April 1 if the chamber needs her to do so. She added she has confidence in the organization’s ability to carry on through the transition.
“The chamber is in good hands under the leadership of President Warren Gilstrap and the board of directors,” she said.
Gilstrap said Tuesday that Loudermilk will be missed. He said she always showed uncommon dedication to Union County.
“She lived and breathed the community, even before she took her job with the chamber,” he said.
He said he has an appreciation for Loudermilk’s low-keyed approach to her work.
“She’s behind the scenes. It’s never been about her. It’s about the chamber and the businesses. I really admire that,” he said.
Though they’re now two entities, the chamber and Union County Tourism work in close partnership on many projects. Janet Dodson, Union County Tourism executive director, also had some praise for Loudermilk.
“She’s worked really hard. I know she’s put her heart and soul into it, and she’s going to be missed,” Dodson said.