For new chamber head Rebecca Grizzle, job is stepping into shoes of close friend

By Sarah Brown

Lebanon Local

It was still dark during Rebecca Grizzle’s daily morning walk when she reached the Lebanon Chamber of Commerce building and found her name lit up on the sign, welcoming her as the new executive director.

The moment was bittersweet for Grizzle.

Former executive director Shelly Garrett worked really hard to obtain that new lighted sign, but passed away before getting to see it, Grizzle said. The two were close friends, though their sometimes hard-edged verbal swordplay, often conducted at well-attended chamber events, might have given the uninitiated a different impression.

“Shelly is going right now, ‘You b**ch. I worked so hard for that. I never got to see it, and now your name is on it,’” Grizzle said.

She was hired Nov. 5 to fill Garrett’s position as executive director of the chamber, and is expected to start Jan. 6.

She will leave her position at Linn-Co Federal Credit Union, where she has been employed for more than two decades, but will remain on the City Council as representative for Ward 2.

When Grizzle was originally appointed to council in 2005, she learned that people who wanted money from transient room taxes had to write a proposal and make their case to council members. The hotel tax revenue is used to fund tourism promotion, and Grizzle felt that was out of their purview.

“I kept saying, ‘Why are we wasting City Council time for all of these requests? The Chamber of Commerce has a committee. We’re not tourism experts. The chamber has tourism experts. Let’s give them the money and let them dole it back out.’”

A few years ago, the city contracted with the chamber, led by Garrett, to be responsible for tourism and promotion. The organization now handles those grant applications and runs the Visitor’s Center.

Now that Grizzle will be working as chamber director, she will step aside from any council decisions associated with the chamber, she noted.

“That’s the only kind of money exchange between City Council and the chamber, and I will just recuse myself from those votes.”

Grizzle’s sister, Mary Carter, also works at the chamber as office manager. Though Grizzle’s priority as director is to help Lebanon, she jokingly agreed that she wanted the job so she could boss her sister around.

“Regardless whether she’s my sister or not, I think she’s the right person for that job,” Carter said of Grizzle. “I think that we’re going to work together brilliantly.”

Choosing to leave her current position at the bank was a tough decision for Grizzle, she said.

“I wrestled with this. I lost a ton of sleep, especially in September when I started really feeling like this is what I was gonna do.”

But she knew she possessed experience and connections at the state, county and local level that would bring a lot of benefit to the community.

She also wanted to honor Garrett, who, she said, put in some hard labor to get the chamber to where it is today.

“Lebanon is unique and, if you ask me, has the best assets as far as culture and volunteers. It’s fun. It’s inviting. It’s inclusive. When you go to a Lebanon chamber function, you don’t feel like people are above you. I just don’t want to see that screwed up. Lebanon is my hometown. This is my place.”

Helen Nelson, chamber board president, said the organization’s leaders conducted a thorough recruitment and hiring process for the position, which attracted more than 60 applicants from across the country. From that pool, the search committee selected three top candidates for in-person interviews, including Grizzle.

“We were delighted with the number of community members who attended the meet and greet, and the feedback that they provided.

“While we were impressed with all three finalists, Rebecca Grizzle was the clear choice of the search committee and the board as a whole.”

Carter believes Garrett would be doing a “silly little dance” if she found out Grizzle got the job.

“I know that Shelly just adored Rebecca and they had a special bond,” Carter said. “I think that Rebecca is the perfect person to replace Shelly because she kind of channels Shelly; she knows her inside and out.”

The first thing Grizzle plans on doing in her new position is finding out what the Board of Directors wants from her, meeting with other surrounding chamber directors, and getting to know those who “do all the heavy lifting” for the chamber.

“My first focus will be meeting with the key players and the volunteers in the chamber, including the people who do so much actual work, like the Greeters and Ambassadors.”

She also wants to “un-1995” her new office.

“I think it’s extremely important to go into that office and feel like it’s a professional space,” she said.

Except for updating the office, Grizzle said she has no plans to make changes or implement new ideas right away.

Grizzle also chairs the Civil Service Commission for the Lebanon Fire District; supports Willamette Manor through its annual play fundraiser and Super Hero Half K Wine Dash; and volunteers for the Strawberry Festival and Star Spangled Celebration.

Through Linn-Co, she has been involved in community events, such as the Cheadle Challenge, Boys & Girls Club golf tournament, and the Runaway Pumpkin half marathon.

“As far as the credit union goes, I have been involved in a ton of local events. Being involved in the community is a major value of the credit union, and that won’t go away because of me.”

It’s been hard for Grizzle to make the decision to leave her job at the credit union, but now she’s ready to say goodbye.

“I think the story isn’t complete without a really deep and heartfelt thank you to Linn-Co for putting up with me for so long.

“It has been my life and my family. I get emotional thinking about leaving them. That was the worst part of deciding to accept the position at the chamber.”