Chamber chief retires

Jacob Lane · Wednesday, April 9, 2014
After nine years with the WL Chamber of Commerce, Letha Ottaway has decided it's time to move on. She'll officially retire from her position in the middle of May.

"It's been a good run, I feel like the Chamber has grown a lot since I started," she said. "I just want to slow down a bit, it's just time."

As the chief operating officer, she's been the face of the Chamber for several years, actively heading its many community projects and events.

However, the stress of the position, her father's death and a want to see her grandchildren has made her decide it's time to grab the reigns of her life and pull back.

"It's mostly the time factor," said Ottaway. "My husband is ten years older than me and I want to do things with him."

A West Liberty native, Ottaway began as a Chamber member with her massage parlor Hands, Health and Harmony. However, health forced her out of the business.

It was at that time DeLynne Porter, who helped run the Chamber at the time, was stepping down. Ottaway joined on as the executive director.

While her title changed several times at the beginning, so did several aspects of the Chamber. She added invoicing, a website and the Chamber Quarterly PM.

During her time she also helped the WL Area Arts Council get its start, began a Chamber blood drive, worked with the Paint Iowa Project to bring paint downtown and took control of its yearly events.

However, there are two points in her career of which she is the most proud. The first was winning a contest on Our Iowa Magazine entitled "Every blooming thing."

"It got the ball rolling for downtown beautification," she said. "To me it was a big deal, because we hung flower baskets in the city and we were featured in the magazine."

The second was bringing in a renowned opera singer for a fundraiser called Roots and Wings in 2011.

"Personally, my biggest accomplishment was bringing Simon Estes to town," she added. "We were able to raise $10,000 that we distributed throughout the town."

Ottaway applied to have Estes come to West Liberty after hearing about his plans for a statewide tour. Through sponsorships by private donors, Estes visited West Liberty High School and spent time with students.

As a part-time worker, Ottaway believes there is an opportunity to bring in someone that can give the community more face-to-face time than she did.

Since she could only come in 20 hours a week, she says she was unable to get out of the office more often. However, a full time worker would be able to talk with Chamber businesses more frequently.

Also, working with West Liberty's various other community groups has been one of the tougher aspects of her job. Ottaway believes there can be a communication gap at times.

She'd like to see them work together on projects rather than separately, as well as see new faces get involved with community events. She indicated changes could be coming.

"The Chamber has some new ideas," she said. "I think you'll see the Chamber work with We Lead more and more."

As for Ottaway, her time will be spent traveling. She said she'll try to be available during the decision process to help out, but the bug to travel has already bitten.

"We got a different camper and plan on camping, traveling and going to Alaska," she said. When asked if she'll still continue living in West Liberty:

"At least six months of the year," she answered with a chuckle.
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