The Athena Chamber of Commerce was about to vote on its dissolution Thursday when state Sen. Bill Hansell showed up.
Hansell said he and wife, Margaret, would be willing to serve this year as vice president and president of the organization, filling the immediate need for 2014 officers. The relieved chamber members approved the Hansells’ appointments unanimously.
“Margaret and I have discussed this a lot over the past few days and we would hate to see the chamber dissolve,” said Hansell, who grew up and now resides in Athena. “We are willing to stand in the gap this year, Margaret as president and me as vice president.”
The chamber of the 1,125-resident town has struggled to keep officer positions filled over the last few years. Prior to Hansell’s offer, no one was willing to fill the spots of outgoing president Jerry Copeland and secretary Dyann Swanson. The chamber had gone two years without a vice president.
Athena chamber rules only allow officers to spend two years in a position. Members voted last year to make a one-time change to the bylaws that allowed Copeland to stay for a third year.
Copeland said community members appear willing to volunteer for the chamber but don’t want to hold a leadership role.
“Everyone is willing to help, but nobody is willing to be in charge,” Copeland said.
The participation problem is far from solved. The chamber must continue its search for a secretary by its January meeting and figure out a way to get a fresh generation to start showing up to meetings.
There was talk of appointing a student representative from Weston-McEwen High School and collaborating more with the town’s downtown revitalization committee.
Chamber members Larry Nye and Cathy Burleson also spoke of a “graying” of the people who are willing to get involved in community organizations.
“Frankly, the older ones are withering,” Nye said. “We need to get the younger, active people on Main Street to step forward and say, ‘I care about this town.’”
The situation also isn’t ideal for the schedule of a senator.
In his first year as 29th district senator, Bill Hansell spent 160 days last year in Salem for the 2013 legislative session.
“(Margaret’s) first reaction was, ‘Wow, well we’re never here,” Bill Hansell said.
The Hansells will likely devote several hours per month to the chamber board positions. They do expect more wiggle room in their 2014 schedule because a shorter 35-day session is scheduled for February. However, Bill Hansell said he and Margaret — who was substitute teaching during the Thursday meeting — will need to rely on a “team approach” to keep the chamber running smoothly.
“I figure many hands make light work, and that’s how we like to run things,” Hansell said.
The chamber’s salvation means events like Athena’s Citizen of the Year, Annual City Wide Cleanup Day, Annual City Wide Yard Sale, Yard of the Month, Athena Day at the Oregon State Fair and Christmas Lighting Contest will continue through 2014.