Chamber marks 125 years




Over the past 125 years, the Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce has grown and changed with the times, but its mission has remained constant.

"It's pretty much the same as it is now — to promote business growth and development and create commerce in the Garden City area," Chamber President Steve Dyer said.

Founded in 1888 as the Industrial Club of Garden City, it became the Garden City Chamber of Commerce in 1923, said Myca Bunch, vice president, marketing and member services. On Thursday, the organization will celebrate the milestone with its annual banquet, the theme of which is "Looking Back ... Moving Forward." The banquet starts at 6 p.m. in the commons area of Garden City High School, 2720 Buffalo Way Blvd.

During the fall of 1888, a group of businessmen took trips between Garden City and Rocky Ford, Colo. According to an article from The Telegram, on one of those trips, the group met in front of a Rocky Ford hotel and one of them remarked that a commercial club should be organized in Garden City. It was decided to discuss the idea at a meeting when they returned home, and less than two weeks later, the industrial club was formed.

"They figured out it was more impactful to have the group together, rather than having them do things by themselves," Dyer said. "It's the same type of things we do today. It's a little bit different issues and opportunities, but the general purpose stays the same."

The biggest changes, Dyer said, are transportation, the fact that businesses now have worldwide reach with the Internet and a myriad of communication options.

The Internet has created a larger area for people to do business in, whereas in the past, commerce was limited by available technology.

"But other than that," Dyer said, "you look at the same type of things — roads, legislative issues, government issues, increased commerce and growth and jobs, so it's interesting. A lot of it is the same."

Back in the early 1930s, the chamber sponsored and participated in many community events, such as tree planting campaigns, beautification projects and purchasing parkland. Now, other groups have taken over some of these events.

"We (still) do some of that. The thing is it's kind of like the community has grown up over the years, so some of the things they look to the chamber to do ..., now other groups do them ... and it makes more sense for certain organizations to do those things," Dyer said.

The chamber currently has 430 members and a membership fee of $285 a year. Initially, the fee was $20, Dyer said. When it first began, the chamber met almost weekly; now gatherings are monthly, largely due to the organization being more established and having a staff, subcommittees and volunteer groups like the Ambassadors.

"It's not just a small group of business people doing everything," Dyer said.

Another change is the infusion of women into the chamber. Starting out, it was mostly men in suits. Now "It's just kind of a trend. Those lines aren't even out there anymore," Dyer said.

Jack Kirchoff, owner of Burtis Motors, said his business has been in the chamber since 1922, making it the organization's longest-running member. "That goes clear back to the Cap Burtis era," he said.

Kirchoff started as a salesman at Burtis Motors in 1979.

"Cap's son, Pres, hired me," he said.

The benefits of being a chamber member, for him, are the community support and promotions, like shop local, Kirchoff said, adding the organization also refers newcomers to chamber members.

"It brings business to your company. It brings clients to your business ...," he said.

Bob Finley, owner of Finley's Men's Wear, has been a chamber member for 32 years. The store has been in the same location in Garden City since 1907, and there have been four owners during that time. Over the years, the chamber has been a constant.

"It's all part of being part of the business community. It promotes the city, which in turn is going to help everybody in the city. It makes Garden City, Kan., visible. It's all part of the community," Finley said. "... It's just good in general. It's just good public relations."

Debbie Reynolds, chairman of the chamber board of directors, has been a member since she arrived in Garden City 14 years ago. She said this is an exciting time for the organization.

"Just in 14 years you see a lot of changes, as far as different entities," Reynolds said. "Really, the chamber was a think-tank for things we have now such as Finney County Economic Development Corp., the Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Leadership Garden City.

"I am honored and humbled to be the 125th board of directors chair. You look at all the people who have been chair over the years and look at all the things that have happened. I think we're at the beginning of a real big growth spurt, to be honest."

The banquet's theme, "Looking Back ... Moving Forward," certainly fits the way Reynolds views the 125th anniversary.

"It's an exciting time to look back 125 years, but it's also with gratitude (to) all these people who have dedicated their lives in Garden City. But it's also a time to look forward ... and focus on the future," Reynolds said.

Dyer said the banquet typically attracts 520 to 550 people, plus another 150 who are expected to attend the comedy show that will follow in the GCHS auditorium. The event also marks the 30th presentation of the Award of Merit.

"It's a volunteer of the year type award. It's almost like a hall of fame. We have an artist draw a picture of them and all the different things they do behind them and present it to them," Dyer said about the award that goes to an outstanding chamber volunteer each year. The recipient isn't announced until the night of the banquet.

Bunch said she's looking forward to the festivities, as well.

"It's one of those events we put a lot of work into," Bunch said. "It's a good payback for the business community. We enjoy it. It's our premier event. It's a lot of fun."

Planning for the next banquet begins when the current one is over.

"It takes time to scout out the entertainment and the talent. We locked in the location the week after (the last banquet). The real planning starts about six months before," Bunch said. Catering is bid out annually to different chamber members, and this year's winner was the Clarion Inn.

Following the banquet, emceed by Tim Turner, who is about to start work at KIUL radio, the chamber will move the festivities to the high school's auditorium for the "Classic Comedy Live" show, featuring entertainment from comedians Dick Hardwick, Mrs. Hughes, whose given name is Carol Hughes, and Jack Mayberry. The show starts at 8 p.m.

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