Mike Vonderheide Retires as Chamber President

I would like to thank the board of directors, the staff (Bill, Jamie, and Diane), the executive committee, and all of you, for giving me the opportunity and privilege to serve as President of the Board of Directors of the Pekin Area Chamber of Commerce during this past year. I have learned so much from all of you during my eight years of service with the chamber.

When I spoke last year at the annual meeting, I set a few goals for the organization as we embarked on a difficult, recessionary year: to maintain all the programs we possibly could, to try to implement new ones, and just keep the status quo with our membership.

If you remember a year ago, I challenged you with a 1-line quote I like to use: “The difference between try and triumph is a little umph!” Well, I can assure you, the staff and the board took me literally and gave this year an extra umph.

Even in a year with uncertainty in our economy, I’m very happy to report we broke a record for new membership. We added 44 new members to our chamber family this past year. The bad news is we lost about the same amount of members during that time. By tightening our belts a little and being good stewards of your dues investments, we closed the books this year with a $9,000 gain. For that, I think the board and staff deserve a huge thank you!

The success of our chamber cannot be measured by any one individual. It is the collective efforts of all of us, coming together as individual pieces of a puzzle to complete the picture.

I was sitting in our wonderful park that we have been blessed with, writing down my thoughts for tonight. It brought to mind just how important it is that we all work together to reach our goals and make our town a better place to work, live and play. We have been blessed here locally with an abundance of tress throughout our town. It reminded me of a lesson I learned from trees just a few years ago.

In 1999 my wife Patty and I purchased some property just south of town. We wanted to clean it up and clear out most of the timber to make it more “park-like.” I hired an old friend to help me do that. On the first morning or our project, my buddy Ray showed up with his D-6 and was ready to go. I told him I wanted to keep all the nice oaks and walnuts, but take everything else out.

I went to work and about noon I got a call. Ray wanted me to stop and see what he had done. I arrived and found my timber almost all cleared, except for the big beautiful oaks.

But then Ray asked me if I wanted to keep those four tall, dark-barked, trees that he had left as well. I asked, “What kind are they?” and he said they were black cherry. I was pretty excited; sure I wanted to keep them! But he suggested we take them out because black cherry trees only do well when they are surrounded and protected by other trees in the forest. He said they would all fall within a year because, now that they are out in the open on their own, they would not be able to stand the wind and weather. I wasn’t sure of his reasoning, and I insisted he leave them stand.

You know, within that year, they all blew over in storms and wind gusts. They just could not make it on their own. Do you get the moral of my story?

Patty and I had the privilege of a trip to California several years back and visited the giant redwoods in a national forest. I began to notice that the giant redwoods were in groups in the forest – you didn’t see just one by itself. Typically, these 2,000 year-old trees that tower up to 1,000 feet tall were growing in groups of six or more, and fairly close to each other. I asked our ranger guide if there was any significance to that. He said, “Yes, that’s the secret to the redwoods success.”

When the redwoods are young, in the first 50 years of their life, they spend 80% of their growth effort underground. They cast their roots out in all directions, searching for another tree root system. When they find one, they team up and interlock their roots to support each other and strengthen one another. They then have the strength and confidence to grow hundreds of feet in the air without fear, as they are all joined together at the roots.

That is how I see our local chamber and community…a collective group of organized people supporting each other and working towards the same goals and objectives. We all have a different piece to contribute to the puzzle, but when it all comes together it makes a beautiful picture.

It has been my pleasure to team up with you and your business this past year. I wish you all the best and may God Bless Pekin, Illinois. Thank you.


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