MACC Ambassadors commemorate 30 years

This was the original line-up of the chamber ambassadors when they formed 30 years ago. (Express file photos)

Aside from welcoming businesses to town, the ambassadors hold ribbon-cutting events, as seen here at the new middle school in August 2020.

In March 1992, the ambassadors welcomed Jan and LeeRoy Mootz, owners of Whiffle Tree Mall.

The ambassadors greeted “The Fonz,” Henry Winkler to Monticello in 2018.
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     You see them in their red coats welcoming new businesses to town; new owners and managers. You see them greeting famous faces to Monticello every February at the O’Reilly Car Show. You see them holding ribbon-cuttings for special occasions, such as the new middle school.

   The Monticello Area Chamber of Commerce (MACC) Ambassadors are celebrating their 30th anniversary.

   It was around this time in late 1991 when the formation of the ambassadors was announced.

   “The MACC is attempting to form an ‘Ambassadors’ group. The ambassadors will be a public relations arm of the Chamber…” shared then-Express editor, Keith Brake in his Oct. 19, 1991, column.

   A few weeks later, in the Express’ Nov. 6, 1991, editorial, it stated that the ambassadors’ function would be “to meet people in Monticello, learn about Monticello, and promote Monticello.

   “The Ambassadors also will be on hand to welcome new businesses and industries when they come to Monticello.

   “It really helps to make that individual or group feel recognized and important.”

   Gerald Retzlaff served as the very first president of the ambassadors; it was his idea that brought the group to fruition.

   Retzlaff moved to Monticello in 1990, working for the Monticello State Bank.

   “I was on the chamber board within six months of being here,” he recalled.

   Carolyn Seeley was chamber director at the time. Retzlaff visited with a few movers and shakers of the community such as Joe Ironside, Dan Dailey, and Judy Tuetken about getting a group together to explore the idea of creating an ambassador group.

   The idea stemmed from Ottumwa where Retzlaff lived prior.

   “They had a group like this,” he said.

   Looking through his history records of the ambassadors, Retzlaff found that the very first informational meeting to discuss the formation took place on Oct. 14, 1991, at The Heights Supper Club. By Oct. 28, the by-laws were set and the group elected officers.

   With Retzlaff serving as president, Ironside was vice president, and Nancy Kraus was secretary/treasurer.

   “People were asking what the chamber does for them,” said Retzlaff. “The ambassadors provided that recognition and a spot in the paper.”

   Shortly after the group formed, they made an unusual number of calls to local businesses for the first time.

   “We wanted to learn about each business,” Retzlaff said.

   The original members included: Retzlaff, Ironside, Kraus, Seeley, Dailey, Peg Arduser, Dorrean Bohlken, Sue Ballou, Sherry Behrends, Peg Cleeton, Kevin Stingley, Louis Morf, Mike Jacobs, Creighton Randolph, Dave Morgan, Bob Goodyear, ken Messer, Phil and Judy Tuetken, Sharon Kromminga, Joe Pacha, Bob Tighe, and Mike Bowman.

   “You got to know people in town and new people coming to town,” said Judy Tuetken.

   Once business owners started hearing about the ambassadors, Tuetken said, “It caught on like wildfire.”

   Part of those original by-laws noted how often they would meet (monthly), how many members would serve at one time (three teams of eight; 24), how long they would spend at each call (no more than a half hour), and appropriate attire (red coats and black slacks/skirts).

   “Red stuck out,” Retzlaff said. It was also to honor the Monticello schools’ colors.

   “You looked coordinated,” said Tuetken.

   Each ambassador also purchased his/her own coat, tie, and badge.

   “We’re a lot less formal today,” Retzlaff said.

   The unforms were especially important when the group would attend a funeral or memorial together of a city official or fellow ambassador.

   One of the ambassadors’ first official visits in December was welcoming Anamosa-based law firm of Remley, Willems, and McQuillen to town. They opened an office at 216 W. First St.

   On Dec. 11, 1991, the ambassadors held a reception to introduce themselves to the community.

   “We’ve seen groups like the Ambassadors function in other communities, and they’re a truly positive influence,” stated Keith Brake in his Dec. 18. 1991, Express column. “They make people feel welcome.”

   In early 1992, they greeted new business owners Jan and LeeRoy Mootz, owners of Whiffle Tree Mall (now Whiffle Tree Mercantile).

   By the spring of 1993, the ambassadors had already made 100 calls in just two years.

   The ambassadors didn’t just welcome people to town. They also held special events such as TGIF Coffee on Friday mornings. In the fall of 1999, following the completion of the downtown streetscape project, they hosted “Thanks with Franks.” This marked the official opening of First Street with a kids’ parade, giving away 2,000 hot dogs, live entertainment, and businesses staying open late.

   Tuetken recalled the ambassadors used to host a progressive holiday meal, rotating around different members’ homes.

   Over the years, the ambassadors have also welcomed notable people to town such as famous celebrities at the annual car show in February.

   “If well-known people come to town, the ambassadors should be there,” said Retzlaff. “We’re the sales people for the city.”

   Both Retzlaff and Tuetken remain active ambassadors today, bringing with them a wealth of knowledge about Monticello and the business community.

   “It’s important people know the history and the past,” offered Retzlaff. “I’d like to see the ambassadors continue; it was my ‘baby.’”

   “I feel I have something to still offer when meeting new businesses and people in town,” Tuetken said about her continued involvement. “It’s always been a highly motivated group and it needs to keep going.”


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