ENTERPRISE — Enterprise native Jennifer Piper started last week as the new executive director of the Wallowa County Chamber of Commerce and is “excited to be back home,” she said in an interview Friday, Dec. 4.
“Now I’m back home in the best place in the world,” said Piper, who was born in Enterprise and spent her childhood there.
Piper, who began Monday, Dec. 7, and replaces the now-retired Vicki Searles, is eager to get to know local business owners and help them make it through the coronavirus pandemic that has plagued so many. Until Friday, she had been unaware of the more than a half-million dollars the Wallowa County Board of Commissioners is doling out in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funds, but she’s eager to jump right in and help local businesses apply to claim their share.
“That’s certainly something we can do in getting the word out, particularly this time of the year for businesses that rely a bit more on seasonality,” she said.
She has experience in such efforts. At her previous position, where she worked in resort property management in Lincoln City on the Oregon Coast, she helped local businesses deal with the shutdowns that occurred this spring during the first phases of the pandemic.
In addition to Lincoln City, Piper worked in the Portland area for about 10 years after receiving a degree in psychology from the University of Portland with a fine arts minor.
“I’ve always had a passion for the arts,” she said.
Piper does some painting, mostly in acrylics.
“But I have an appreciation for many different media,” she said.
That appreciation runs in the family. Her dad, Paul Piper, owns Classic Marble Design in Joseph, where he’s worked with local bronze foundries to create the pedestals for bronze statues in the area. Her mom, Gretchen Piper, gets creative with textiles in her business, Enterprise Sewing and Embroidery.
Prior to college, she attended secondary school at Upper Columbia Academy near Spangle, Washington, west of Spokane, except for one year at Joseph High School.
She is married to Damian Huff, a high school and college math teacher who hopes to find a position in the area when he joins her in February. In the meantime, Jennifer said, he’ll substitute and continue with his online math tutoring business.
She said they are avid outdoors people, enjoying what the area has to offer, such as hiking, snow skiing and summer activities on the water. She said although she hasn’t done much fishing or hunting since childhood, those are definitely on the list of things she and Huff plan to do.
Piper is just getting her feet wet with the chamber, but she has one characteristic critical for a chamber executive director: optimism. She is convinced local businesses and their owners can get through the pandemic.
“One thing I’ve always known about the people in Wallowa County is they’re pretty gritty — a tough people,” she said. “Anyone who’s a full-time resident here is gritty. They’re tough and have a lot of ‘stick-to-itiveness’ and I think that’s key to getting through an unusual and challenging time. I think that businesses being flexible and adaptable and open to learning to do things different than they have before is going to make all the difference in how they make it out the other side.”