By SAMANTHA PIDDE
When the Savanna Chamber of Commerce first formed in 1944, its purpose was to "promote and further the social, civic, mercantile, industrial, agricultural and commercial interests of the City of Savanna and vicinity."
Now, after 75 years of operation, Executive Director Cassie Wurster said the chamber continues to bring businesses and people together to benefit the community.
"We believe that working together and having a passion for your home town is what living in a small town is all about," Wurster told the Savanna Times-Journal via email. "It's about being neighborly and caring and wishing all business owners success. Everyone who gets involved cares about their community and leaving better for those after them."
The Savanna Chamber will celebrate its 75th anniversary with a special dinner at 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16, at Manny's. The group will be recognizing past presidents and giving out awards, such as Businessperson of the Year, Community Cheerleader, and Non-profit of the Year. The board also plans to present its goals and strategies for the upcoming year.
"We hope to make this dinner an annual celebration," Wurster said.
The first Savanna Chamber meeting was held Tuesday, April 4, 1944, in the Radke Dining Room. The articles of incorporation were signed on Oct. 19, 1949, by Paul Schember, C.C. Mullen, Spurgeon Harter, R.J Caron, H.P. Greison, W.J. Green, H.W. Jahn and C. Paul Johnson).
According to a list from 1944, provided by Wurster, original Chamber of Commerce members included:
F.P. Withhart, Harry Wolfe, John S. Young, F.J. Stransky, F.U. Stranskey, Ed Winkler, Albert Greison, Alexander Lumber Company, Dora Nipe, J.V. Wagner, Savanna Finance Company, American Engineering and Management Corporation, John Brearton, G.H Cottral, Savanna Theatre Co., B.K. Shores, Thomas Ballas, McGrough and Hayes, I.R. Sandberg, T.L. Schunder, Stage Electrical Service, Dr. Schreiter, O. Smith, Mike Cain, Dr. Diehl, Dr. Gholson, W. Shipley, Madsen Bros., Nesbit and Stiles, C. Mix, J. Meeker, Canavan and the Carpenters Union.
The Savanna Times-Journal is the business which has been a Chamber member the longest, joining in 1948, said Wurster.
The first chamber president was John Slater (1944-1946), who started an informational brochure for Savanna. He suggested that developments in the Mississippi Palisades State Park was a project worthy of consideration for a brochure.
Wurster said Slater then contacted the operating vice president of the Milwaukee Railroad to consider Savanna for a new building, which would be servicing and maintaining diesel engines.
"Over the years the Savanna Chamber of Commerce has worked on projects that continue to grow businesses and bring new businesses to the area," Wurster said. "We provide grants and loans to Chamber member businesses. We also provide a tourist map that businesses pay to advertise in."
Since organizing in 1944, the Savanna Chamber of Commerce has grown in both members and goals. The Chamber began with 34 members and now has 95.
"Our goals have increased to include more volunteerism within the community, and we are in the process of developing a list of what our value-added services are for our members," said Wurster, pointing out that the Chamber now has more females on the board than in years past.
Current members of the board of directors are:
Samantha Ritchie, River Valley Designs, president and member of the Events and Programs Committee; Amy Johnston, Jo-Carroll Energy, vice president and member of the Membership and Ambassador Committee; Amiee Schoenhaar, treasurer and chairman of Membership and Ambassador Committee; Jodi Sedivy, Moose Lodge, member of the Events and Programs Committee and the Membership and Ambassador Committee; Beth Kerkove, WCCI, member of the Events and Programs Committee; Erika Tubbs, The Answer Fitness Center, member of the Membership and Ambassador Committee; Angela Becktel, TBK Bank, member of the Events and Programs Committee; Wurster, executive director.
The Chamber will host its annual Christmas Walk from 5-8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 29, in downtown Savanna. This will be the last "big" event before moving on to plans for 2020.
Wurster said the board is working on several projects for the upcoming year. The Chamber is currently partnering with the City of Savanna to plan a tour of empty commercial buildings in the Fall of 2020.
"We are hoping to bring some new businesses to Savanna and fill some of these beautiful buildings that are sitting empty," Wurster said.
She added that they will be building a team to work on the tour soon. Anyone interested in helping may contact Mayor Chris Lain at Savanna City Hall or Wurster at the Savanna Chamber of Commerce office, which is located in the Times-Journal building, 315 Main St.
Wurster said the Chamber hopes "to grow our existing events to better serve our community,” adding, “We would also like to provide more value for our members, specifically at our quarterly dinners, by inviting speakers that will aid the businesses in building their business.”
She said the organization hopes to grow its community involvement and volunteerism, "getting more involved in school events and activities, and possibly creating an entrepreneurship scholarship for a high school senior."
Added Wurster, "We have new faces being added to the board this coming year and we are all excited to see where we can take the Savanna Chamber of Commerce.”
The executive director credited the Chamber's success to support from everyone in the Savanna community.
"Our members and volunteers are what keeps the chamber running and have helped Savanna be what it is today,” she said. “We are so grateful for the businesses we work with in our community. We are so thankful for our membership and the community support we receive, and we're excited to see what the future holds for the Chamber.
Past presidents of the Savanna Chamber of Commerce include:
John Slater, Phil Jenks, Paul Schember, A.J. Bernsten, Charles Hendrix, Hardin Dinsen, Louis Corey, Russell Sharp, Carl Lantau, Albert Nichol, Art Weidman, Albert Greisen, David Hayhow, Robert Davis, Walter Helle, Rodney Parsons, Melvin Jones, William Gardner, Wayne Hammer, Jay Kurth, Fred Dauphin, Bill Sonnenberg, Joe Evans, John Sullivan, Al Cordes, Jack Ferris, Dennis Bowman, Paul Dolter, Al Tittsworth, Bill Dayton, Don Herrick,
Steven Kelley, Cliff Ferris, Gary Garvin, Gary Guffey, Gene DeLeeuw, John “Beaver” Miller, Bruce Stout, Gloria Miner, Rob Canier, Larry Stebbins, Renny Larson, Jack Mendel, Gene Mauldin, Steve McIntyre, Steve Haring, Tom Messer, Dave Down, Kim Lawfer, JC Carey, John LeComte, Gail Bowman, Andrew Smith, Gene Flack, Kevin McKee, Tony McCombie, Reed Hutchcraft, Merle Oberbroeckling, Tom Free, Mark Klein, Rob Canier, Tony McCombie, Chris Lain, Gail Bowman, Tammy Spittler and Samantha Ritchie.