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Chamber auction brings in about $35,000


Money could give director time to visit members, recruit Cornelius businesses

Dawn and Don Jones visit with Chamber Director Howard Sullivan during the silent auction, held at Pacific Universitys Washburne Hall.A year after the Forest Grove Chamber of Commerce agreed to merge with Cornelius, only 15 of Cornelius’ 400-some businesses have joined the organization.

“I think they’re just waiting to see, ‘What can you do for me?’” said Chamber Director Howard Sullivan.

Sullivan hopes the roughly $35,000 grossed Saturday night at the chamber’s annual auction will give him time to visit Cornelius businesses and answer that question directly.

“We’re looking at ways to get me out of the office,” he said.

More than 150 people attended the dinner and auction, including Pacific University President Lesley Hallick, who bought the priciest auction items of the night: two African safari packages for two, at a cost of $3,250 each.

Pacific’s director of legal affairs, Monica Marvin, bought three watercolor paintings for a total of $1,500, meaning Pacific was responsible for nearly a quarter of the grand total.

Hallick said she plans to give one set of safari tickets to some friends so they can all travel to Africa together sometime in the next two years.by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTOS: JOHN SCHRAG - Chamber board member Maggie Boehmer (left) of Summa Real Estate and former chamber director Lois Hornberger, now with Pacific University, collect bidding sheets from the first silent auction of the evening.

The auction’s net proceeds will help pay off a few remaining debts. But Sullivan hopes there will be enough left over to hire more office help so he can get out into the business community.

“I know the board hired me 10 months ago not because of my computer or telephone skills but my people skills,” he said.

Just a few days ago, Sullivan was able to visit a chamber member who is planning a ribbon-cutting ceremony for his new business location. Afterwards, Sullivan made a pitch for chamber membership to a nearby business owner.

Howard Sullivan shares a laugh with Pacific University President Lesley Hallick, who bought the priciest auction item of the night: four tickets for an African safari package, totalling $6,500.Face-to-face contact beats phone calls and email, he said.

Cornelius City Manager Rob Drake had encouraged the merger between the two cities, suggesting that a larger chamber, representing a total population of more than 30,000 people, would give it more weight to balance the influence of the county’s bigger cities, such as Hillsboro, Beaverton and Tigard.

It’s unclear whether the chamber’s first joint State of the City luncheon last week — this year featuring both Forest Grove and Cornelius mayors — helped draw a more impressive than usual crowd that included elected officials from county, Metro and federal levels, as well as a representative of U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkely and three fellow mayors.

Another advantage of merging, Drake had said, was that Cornelius businesses could benefit from trainings or grants offered through the chamber. The Portland Community College Small Business Development Center, for example, offers no-cost business advising at the chamber office in Forest Grove.

The chamber, meanwhile, would benefit from the merger through increased revenue as new members began paying dues, he said.

Murphy’s Furniture was one of about 50 active members of the Cornelius chamber when it folded in 2010 — and one of the few that joined the new, merged chamber last year.Auctioneer John Markus turned on the hometown charm to boost the bidding. The former Forest Grove resident noted that when he was in junior high, his history teacher was Howard Sullivan, now the chambers director.

Murphy’s co-owner Mary Holub likes how the chamber brings local merchants together: “It shows you’re part of the community.”

Curves of Cornelius dropped out of the Cornelius chamber before it folded, said owner Cheryl Vandomelen, because the $300 membership fee was cost-prohibitive, especially when she couldn’t see the benefits of being a member.

“I didn’t get networking. I didn’t get any of that. I got speakers coming in,” Vandomelen said. “One of the speakers was Miss Oregon. She was very nice but I didn’t see how that would be applicable.”

Forest Grove photographer Brenda Somes displays one of the three framed watercolor paintings by Mollie Favour (and donated by Viasystems) that went up for bid during oral auction.The last straw was when Vandomelen tried to get a list of Cornelius businesses. “I was told there wasn’t one.”

Vandomelen said a friend of hers in Banks gives good reports of chamber activities there and pays only $50 a year to belong.

If the Forest Grove/Cornelius chamber fee were lower, “I would love to participate in it,” Vandomelen said.

Sullivan said the fee would be $175, which is “more doable,” Vandomelen said, but still a little pricey.

Sullivan may pay her a visit if new office help frees him up.