Franklin County Chamber of Commerce president to retire

  • Ann Hamilton is retiring from the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce at the end of the year. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz


  • Ann Hamilton is retiring from the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce at the end of the year. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

For the Bulletin
Friday, October 14, 2016

GREENFIELD — After leading the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce for 32 years, Ann L. Hamilton plans to retire at the end of 2016.

Hamilton got a standing ovation last month as she made the announcement at the Chamber breakfast in the apprentice restaurant at Franklin County Technical School in Turners Falls. When asked about her retirement, Hamilton said, “I much prefer ‘rewirement.’ I thought it was time. But I’ll certainly miss a lot of people.

“I’ve enjoyed almost every day. But one has to have time for fun in life,” Hamilton said. “I took a watercolor class in Maine a few weeks ago. I said I was ‘practicing retirement.’ I have a lot of interests to pursue.”

Hamilton started the Green River Festival in 1986, and is known for many other projects including the Chamber breakfasts, Cider Days, bridal fairs, Fiber Twist and other special events that became part of the annual Franklin County calendar.

“My kids grew up blowing up balloons with helium for events,” Hamilton said. “They put up with Mother coming home with name tags — something I think they needed. Because I was at a lot of meetings, a lot of breakfasts.”

Hamilton said she told the executive committee members in June of her impending retirement so they could prepare for the transition. She said they will do a survey and work on a strategic plan, “so the next person has some information on what the future of the chamber should be.”

“Membership is the solid base of the chamber of commerce,” she said. “It’s very different today, because some businesses think all they need is their website or Facebook. They don’t understand how many services they may need here.”

Even before she took the reins at the Chamber in 1983, Hamilton was a community leader. In 1980, she was the first woman elected to the Greenfield Select Board and was its chairwoman for two years of her term.

Other positions she had held in Greenfield before heading the Chamber included being chairwoman of Go-Greenfield, an organization that later became the Greenfield Business Association. Hamilton was also a Planning Board member, a member of the Greenfield Community College Foundation and a corporator at the former Franklin County Public Hospital (now Baystate Franklin Medical Center).

“Ann’s been the heart and soul of the Chamber for so many years,” says Kim Levitch, a past president and member of the board of directors. “She’s started so many events, like the Green River Festival, for example, and others. She’s been a quick adaptor and she’s been great about bringing people to the table, to solve various problems in town. She’s a fantastic person. It’s going to be a big change when she’s gone.”

State Sen. President Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, said he has worked with Hamilton for his entire career — from the time that he was a staff member for John Olver, who was then state senator. “She was a member of the Select Board when I first met her,” he recalled. “I’ve always viewed her as being a really connected, responsible leader who was able to build programs because she was so aware and responsible to the community.

“She was also able to carry the community’s message to Boston,” said Rosenberg. “She really brought a voice to the table that was so critical. I think she is significantly responsible for the tourism growth that we’ve seen in Franklin County. She was a significant advocate in that, and in making sure Franklin County wasn’t left behind.”

Jack Baker, who retired several years ago from Baker Office Supply, expressed surprise that Hamilton is retiring. “She tried to help all of us,” said Baker. “Ann’s been good for this community. She’s always had out-of-the-box thinking and she was really good for the Chamber and good for the community.”

“I didn’t think she would leave — she’s a real workaholic,” said Baker. “But life goes on. I wish her well. She needs time to relax.”

Greenfield Community College President Robert L. Pura said Hamilton is a “wonderful, collaborative community leader who has helped to move the community forward.”

Pura, who is on the Chamber’s executive committee, said the breakfast itself “is the perfect metaphor for Ann: It’s unique, it’s spirited, friendly and community-oriented.”

Pura said Hamilton’s work to establish the Green River Festival has been one of her most significant projects. He credits Hamilton and Jim Olsen, president of Signature Sounds, with getting the festival going.

“There are many examples of things she’s been able to create that fit the community,” Pura added.

Art Schwenger, a former chamber chairman and director of the Shelburne Falls Area Business Association, credits Hamilton with attracting new businesses to Franklin County and keeping some companies here, at a time when the tool-makers were leaving or downsizing.

“She’s been an exemplary model for chamber of commerce directors,” he said. “It’s hard to imagine what it will be like without her quiet and strong leadership.”

Marian Noga, office manager of the Chamber of Commerce, was already working there before Hamilton became president. “I’ve enjoyed all our time working together, and I’m going to miss her,” said Noga. “She has been such an asset to the Chamber and to the community.

“We’ve been a great team,” said Noga.

“I can’t believe she’s finally retiring,” said Rich Fahey, another past chairman of the Chamber. “I know it’s time for her. She needs to enjoy the rest of her life, but it just won’t be the same without her. She’s going to (leave) tough shoes to fill, with all her connections with the Boston folks, the tourism department, with all the local politicians, state and regional organizations ... It’s going to be tough to find someone with all those connections and all that knowledge.”

“Ann has always been a good leader, always kept membership up,” said John Chmielski, a former chamber chairman who retired from Phoenix Mutual. “She always had a good connection with politicians at the local and state level.”

Chmielski said the chamber has had many different chairpeople over the years, but “she was the one consistent force behind it all.”