In listening to incoming Red Oak Area Chamber of Commerce president Dana Rodes and outgoing president Tracy Sullivan speak about the chamber, one gets the feeling this is not the end of an era, but a continuation of the growth of the chamber and the vivacious atmosphere that Sullivan provided upon arrival.
When Sullivan took over as administrator of the chamber in October 2005, the Red Oak Area Chamber of Commerce had 190 members. Now, on her last day, she leaves a chamber of 350 members after just one year and eight months on the job.
“My goal was to increase membership, but also to increase the activity levels of our members,” Sullivan said of her initial goals when taking the job at the chamber. “One of the goals I had was to create a cooperative effort with the entities in the city — the city staff, the school district, the education foundation, Lions Club and other organizations — so that everyone was working together. By creating the cooperative effort, it streamlined the process. Most of that was just opening the lines of communication.”
Sullivan said that once the people of the community noticed the successful events sponsored by various groups, including the chamber, the membership jumped with businesses wanting to be a part of the cooperative effort.
One big part of creating the cooperative effort was working closely with the chamber board of directors to establish goals for the chamber.
“The very first thing I did was have an organizational meeting with the board of directors so I could see what their goals were and they could see what the others’ goals were,” Sullivan said, saying that the she found most of the directors had the same goals for the chamber. “That excited me. That’s already huge. It helped me understand where they were coming from and helped them understand where I was coming from.”
Sullivan jumped headfirst into her job, organizing the spring chamber golf tournament and then planning for the busy summer and fall. In August of 2006, the chamber joined forces with detective Boyd Brock of the Red Oak Police Department in organizing National Night Out in Red Oak.
“Basically Boyd took care of the logistics. What I did was garner support from the business community,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan also worked with the Red Oak ISD Education Foundation in creating and promoting the first Shop Red Oak month in August 2006 as well, encouraging Red Oak residents to shop local for their back to school supplies and clothing, with portions of the proceeds benefiting the education foundation.
Sullivan and the Red Oak Area Chamber of Commerce board of the directors and ambassadors also revamped several events, such as Founder’s Day, the annual auction, and the annual Christmas event in Red Oak.
An extra day was added to Founder’s Day in 2006, with the chamber arranging for booths, games and a band in the Main Street Plaza area on the Friday night before the Saturday parade and event at Red Oak City Park. The Saturday event also saw an increase in the number of booths, games for children and adults and parade entrants.
As for the auction, Sullivan and Tina Askew took the annual fund-raiser to a classier level with the Black and White Gala, encouraging those attending to dress in their best black and white and enjoy dancing, great food and bid on a variety of items. The chamber will continue with the theme this year, adding a nautical aspect to the night.
The chamber also employed the space in downtown Red Oak for the annual Christmas event, moving the event from Red Oak City Park to downtown Red Oak. Christmas in Downtown Red Oak stretched from Main Street Plaza to old downtown Red Oak and included the Festival of Trees auction and a parade.
“Now with the city’s vision and growth of downtown, that event will get bigger and bigger,” Sullivan said.
During her tenure, the Red Oak Area Chamber of Commerce added administrative assistant Sarah Smith to the chamber staff and changed Sullivan’s title from administrator to president.
“It really brought Red Oak up to date with other chambers of commerce,” Sullivan said.
Since June 6, Sullivan has been showing Rodes the ropes and, at times, simply talking and laughing for parts of the day.
“It’s been so great working with her this last week and a half. I feel like I’ve found a kindred spirit and I admire her tenacity and business savvy and her passion. She really loves this community,” Rodes said. “I just hope to continue this work she has started. She’s a pretty cool chick.”
With her last day upon her, Sullivan couldn’t help but get emotional about leaving a position she has come to love in a community she has great respect and love for.
“Ellis County is my home. I’ve watched Red Oak grow since I was in high school,” Sullivan said, who is a Waxahachie native and Waxahachie High School graduate. “Number one, the boards of directors have been so supportive of everything. I’m a people person and they personalities and the people are what are important. They know my story and I know theirs. The chamber’s job is to promote networking among its members. I’ll drive on fumes just so I can go to Andy’s gas station. I come to the Starbucks in Red Oak.”
Sullivan is in the process of moving to Georgetown with her children and husband, Seth Terry. She has taken a job in Taylor as the city of Taylor’s Main Street coordinator.
“My main function is to plan events and raise money for grants,” Sullivan said. “They had a vision plan and Taylor is about eight years ahead of what Red Oak is now. It’s so fun to see where Red Oak is going to be. It’s fun to see the next phase. It’s also good to see how the city has supported that effort. The chamber and school are a part of it.”
Sullivan is confident that the chamber will be in good hands with Rodes taking the helm.
“I think her energy is really going to carry the momentum,” Sullivan said. “She can enthuse anyone. It’s that enthusiasm everyone will tie into.”
Rodes comes to the chamber from Red Oak Health and Rehabilitation, where she served as the community relations director.
“I never would have left Red Oak Health and Rehabilitation had it not been for the opening at the chamber. It would’ve never crossed my mind. I really loved that job,” Rodes said. “But I thought it would be the perfect opportunity for me. When I told my husband, he said the position was custom tailored for me. I have to say I agree.”
Rodes praised Sullivan for her work at the chamber and said she hopes to continue the successes.
“First of all, Tracy has done amazing things. When I heard she was leaving, my jaw dropped. What a loss for the city,” Rodes said. “My good fortune is to come in behind her and build on what she started. I really want it to be a focus on the services to the business owners. My goal is to meet with each and every chamber member and see what they expect to get out of the chamber.”
“I’m a natural born promoter. I think a big part of representing the chamber is promoting every business in the chamber. I just love people and this gives me the opportunity to interact with people all the time,” Rodes said.
Rodes also has big plans for chamber events, such as adding a rodeo and a business expo.
“I want to do a rodeo and call it the Red Oak Round-Up. I also want to do a Red Oak lifestyles and business expo,” Rodes said.
As for the Red Oak Round-Up, Rodes already has a piece of land in mind — the vacant lot located between the Interstate 35 northbound service road and Red Oak Health and Rehabilitation.
“I threatened Roy (Miller) for two years that I was going to do it as a Red Oak Health and Rehabilitation event, but now we’ll promote it as a city and chamber event,” Rodes said, adding that she would include various equine associations and groups, as well as the FFA and 4-H.
Rodes views a Red Oak lifestyles and business expo as an opportunity to spotlight the many businesses in Red Oak.
“The one they have in Waxahachie is very well established. I’d like Red Oak to have it’s very own. We’re large enough that we can really start establishing our own identity,” Rodes said. “It will give Red Oak businesses a chance to step up and show themselves.”
Rodes is aware of everything that comes with the job and has gotten a head start on most aspects — from constant promotion of the city to addressing Ben Goodwyn.
“I love the people in this community. Ever since I started going to the chamber events in October I’ve been bragging about the chamber. There’s really high involvement and since it’s a small town, everyone is friends,” Rodes said. “I feel blessed to work for friends on behalf of friends. Of course, I look forward to giving Ben Goodwyn a hard time.”