NEW LEXINGTON — After 13 years as the director of the Perry County Chamber of Commerce, John Ulmer logged his last day on the job on 2020’s final day. Ulmer accepted the position on Jan. 1, 2008, when board members approached him following his retirement from The Ohio State University Extension Office.
“It was a good fit for me following my retirement because I needed something to fill a gap,” describes Ulmer.
The chamber members tasked Ulmer with improving the chamber’s credibility and increasing its visibility in the community. Ulmer says a major step in that direction was the chamber’s decision to rent office space in their current location at the same time he was hired as the director.
“Being on Main Street in the middle of New Lexington has been very advantageous for us,” says Ulmer.
Ulmer may have some magician in his background because he made his flexible 20-hour work week look full-time. Although the hours qualify his position as part-time, he says the position had him “on the job all the time.” Describing the director’s role as one of “connecting the dots” in order to bring people together, Ulmer’s professional approach constantly promoted the Perry County business community.
Working with people whether they were old friends or new ones made the director’s position rewarding for Ulmer. Another aspect of his 13 years on the job that contributed to so many successful ventures was the full support of the chamber’s board.
“I am very fortunate to have a great board of directors,” professes Ulmer. “They were always supportive.”
He also gave his secretary, Kim Barnhart, high marks for her dedication to the Chamber. Perhaps Ulmer was influenced in his remarks about Kim because he stole her from two other jobs.
“Kim was the secretary for the Sheridan superintendent when I offered her a job at the extension office. Then I offered her a position with the chamber when I became the director. We’ve worked together for a long time,” says Ulmer.
One project that Ulmer really enjoyed putting together was the Groundhog Day Dinner. From the top-notch speakers to the great support from Northern Local School Supt. Tom Perkins, Ulmer truly enjoyed bringing Perry County residents together for the event in February. The dinner also provided two of Ulmer’s biggest disappointments during his time as chamber director.
The first was weather related and the second had to do with COVID-19.
“When Col. Danny McKnight was our guest speaker, we had planned for him to visit all four Perry County high schools to speak to the kids,” remembered Ulmer. However, a major snowstorm pounded the area just as Col. McKnight arrived. Every school system cancelled classes, thus voiding the opportunity for students to hear from Col. McKnight.
Despite the success of the Groundhog Day Dinner events, it could not fend off the stranglehold COVID-19 has had on every aspect of what life in America used to be. Ulmer says the loss of putting together another Groundhog Day Dinner is a major reason he is stepping down as director.
Another reason behind his decision is to reduce expenses for the chamber. “The pandemic has had the same effect on the chamber as it has local businesses,” says Ulmer. Keeping a paid director on the staff is one expense Ulmer feels the organization cannot afford at this time.
On the personal side of his decision, Ulmer says he is looking forward to making time for his family. From walleye trips to Lake Erie to hiking across the most majestic trails America has to offer, Ulmer says he and his wife Barb plan to travel extensively.
John Ulmer’s entire professional life has been dedicated to making Perry County a better place for its residents. John Ulmer is a class act that Perry County will definitely miss. Although he is quick to say “nobody is irreplaceable,” the county is losing a voice respected all over this state.
Of course, if you really need to hear that distinctive voice, you can always hear John on the stadium speakers at Sheridan football games where he has been the voice of the Generals for over 40 years.