Lacey Chamber of Commerce Celebrates 50 Years

By Ken

(Editor’s note: The Lacey Chamber of Commerce is celebrating 50 years of serving the Lacey business community. A brief history of the Lacey Chamber appears in “The Profile” of the Lacey chamber. Here, is a complete history of the Lacey Chamber of Commerce.)

During the summer of 1961, the business owners of the community known as Lacey began meeting at the Burger Bar on Pacific Avenue, Owned by Bernice Scroghan.

Concerned that other business groups weren’t representing their interests and over coffee, the discussion often turned to the subject “Does our community need its own chamber of commerce and if we do, what is the possibility of forming a Lacey Area Chamber of Commerce?”

From these informal meetings, success was achieved in September 1961 when the decision was made to organize a new chamber of commerce. Attending these first meetings were the core of the group—Verlyn Ellis, Bob Blume, Frank Calkins, Bill Griswold, and Leo and Hazel Lamey. The first by-laws were written by attorney Frank Calkins.

The first meeting of Lacey Area Chamber of Commerce took place on October 11, 1961 at the Burger Bar. The by-laws were read and approved, officers were nominated to hold office until the next meeting in January 1962.

At that January 1962 meeting, the following were elected to office Verlyn Ellis president, Bill Griswold first vice president, Ernie Olson second vice president, Joe McReynolds treasurer, Hazel Lamley secretary, and board members, Bob Blume, Bill Ryan, Ray Kidwiler, Frank Calkins and Ross Erwin. A month later Verlyn Ellis resigned because he was moving to Seattle and Bill Griswold took his place.

Bob Blume volunteered to chair the first committee, and obtain a community Christmas tree. In his exuberance, Bob selected a tree, almost to large for the truck, and many recall seeing the truck headed down the street with the front wheels almost off the road.

Dues for members were set at $15 with associate member paying $5. By June 1962 there were 36 charter members.

On October 21, 1962, the articles of incorporation were approved and the Lacey Area Chamber of Commerce was established as a non-profit corporation. The Chamber took as its motto “Where free enterprise thrives.”

Many projects were under taken that first year including a joint effort between the Chamber and Puget Sound Power and Light which resulted in the installation of 12 street lights – – the first lighting program for the area of Lacey.

For the next two years Ray Kidwiler served as president of the Lacey Area Chamber of Commerce. Under his leadership the Lacey Chamber started a city beautification project and raised funds to help alleviate a drainage problem by digging a central storm water drainage ditch. The ditch ran down Pacific Avenue behind the existing buildings along what is now the Woodland Trail.

Panorama City began construction of its new concept retirement community and residents started moving in as soon as the buildings were completed in 1963.

Efforts to annex the unincorporated parts of Lacey into the City of Olympia, began in earnest in 1964. led by downtown Olympia business interests. A survey of the Lacey business community to incorporate as the city of Lacey showed 90% in favor while local residents were opposed to incorporation by 52%.

A joint meeting with the Olympia Chamber on April 25,1965 was interrupted by an earthquake, perhaps a harbinger of thinks to come.

Pushing the need for a community identity was the opening of many new stores; on April 13 1966, Safeway and on May 17, 1966, Peoples. South Sound Center had its grand opening on October 12, 1966 and Lacey Chamber charter member Bob Blume was named the Realtor of the Year.

Lacey had its first newspaper that year “The Lacey Leader”, which represented the business and city interests for more than a decade before folding in 1980.

The Lacey Chamber continued its fight against annexation to Olympia and supported efforts to incorporate. The first vote failed. Lacey supporters decreased the size of the proposed city boundaries and tried it again. On December 5,1966 the residents of Lacey vote to incorporate as the newest city in the State of Washington was certified.

In 1967 Agnes Kenmir was named as the liaison between the Lacey Chamber and the City of Lacey. The following year the Chamber had its first permanent office when KGY Radio vacated leased space in South Sound Center and turned it over to the Lacey Chamber. The office was staffed by volunteers. In 1968 Agnes Kenmir was hired as the first paid staff member of the Lacey Chamber. The Chamber later shared space with “The Daily Olympian” which also had an office in South Sound Center.

Another effort arose in 1969, again by downtown Olympia business interests, this time to annex the City of Lacey to the City of Olympia. The Lacey Chamber not only opposed the effort , but raised and spent $750 against the action. The effort failed.

During the next few years the Lacey Chamber pushed for the construction of a Marvin Road Interchange on 1-5, supported the concept of a community wide bus service and worked to gain the passage of needed school levies.

The need for a permanent office became apparent and in 1972, the work began on construction of a building at 5602 Pacific Avenue next to the Lacey Fire Station. On August 20, 1971, the office was dedicated with Washington Governor Dan Evans as the guest speaker.

In 1972, Ray Kidwiler, Mr. Lacey Chamber of Commerce, suffered a heart attack and died during a Lacey Chamber meeting, just after giving a talk on the importance of attracting new industry to Lacey. A special memorial fund was established and the Ray Kidwiler Memorial Scholarship Fund was created. Over the years nearly $35,000 has been distributed in the form of scholarships for students pursuing a degree in business. For nearly all of that time, the committee had been chaired by Gene Dolan. Former Lacey Chamber president Stewart Ridgeway now runs the program.

In 1973, recognizing the need for a community festival the Lacey Chamber started the Lacey Music Festival, a suggestion of member and musician Johnny Lewis, Under the leadership of C. Don Thompson. Harry Rodin, Lacey Fire Chief Floyd Pugh, dance instructor Virginia Wood and Johnny Lewis , the first festival was held in August at St. Martins College. Because of the recent number of rock festivals in the state and a rumor that a group of Hells Angels were on their way to disrupt the event, a contingent of law enforcement officials in full riot gear were on hand and out of sight at the festival. Nothing but fun happened. Later the festival was named the Lacey International Music, Arts, Dance Festival and later the Lacey Mad Festival, the event lasted until 1980.

Over the next few years, the Lacey Chamber wrote and produced a brochure on Lacey, which the City of Lacey distributed across the state, worked for good roads and sidewalks, encouraged new business, supported a new library building, and worked with the city and against the city when needed. The Chamber supported an increase in the utility tax to fund reconstruction of Sleater-Kinney. Once finished, the tax was to go off. It never did. The working relationship with the city soured somewhat.

The Chamber worked for lifting some of the restrictions in the city’s sign ordinance and has had some limited success, although not enough. Lacey continues to have the most restrictive sign ordinance in the state.

In 1985, the Lacey Chamber partnered with the City of Lacey to start the Lacey Spring Fun Fair, a celebration of family. This event has been held every year since and was spun off as a separate corporation to run the Fair.

The Lacey Chamber became a partner with the City of Lacey and created the Lacey 2000 Steering Committee which identified a new city downtown core and called for revitalization of business through an improved permitting system.

In response to the growing influence of the politics on local business, the Lacey chamber created a Government Affairs Committee to address issues of political importance. It also created a Political Action Committee, a PAC, to raise money and support political candidates and issues. The Lacey Business League continues to be active in political years.

The Lacey Chamber has worked to improve service at the Lacey Post Office and encouraged Thurston County to close the Hawks Prairie landfill when it had promised to do so.

As the chamber entered the 21st Century and its Fifth decade of service to Lacey businesses, it continues to provide leadership in the community. It supported city efforts to construct a new freeway interchange at Marvin Road, embraced the new Gateway project and participated in welcoming the many military families which now call Lacey their home.

In 2007, after much discussion, the Lacey chamber dropped Thurston and Area from its name and embraced the name of Lacey Chamber of Commerce. Its new logo of the rising “L” symbolizes the chamber’s increased activity and view towards the future.

In 2011, the Chamber celebrated 50 years, with a forum on the chamber’s history, “The Profile” dedicated to the chamber’s history, and the hiring of a new executive director, Tony Salas.

The Chamber has moved in offices several times, changed executive directors several times and fought off efforts to consolidate the Lacey Chamber with the Olympia Chamber on at least thee occasions. Through it all, the Lacey Chamber continues to take a unique perspective and fight for what is right for the Lacey business community and the citizens of the greater Lacey area.

Visit www.KenBalsley.com for Ken’s background and many more articles.

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