By Katy Savage
While many celebrated Memorial Day weekend with barbecues and plant sales, Okemo Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Marji Graf flew to Maryland to meet her new employers.
Graf resigned from her role in Vermont to take a position as president and CEO of the Rockville, Maryland, Chamber of Commerce, a position she starts on July 2.
“It all happened in the last two weeks,” said Graf.
Graf had never been to Rockville before this past weekend. She saw the position advertised in a quarterly email that goes to chambers across the nation and submitted an application.
“They hired me on Facetime,” she said.
Graf visited her new city during the annual Hometown Holidays Music Festival, which about 50,000 people attend every year. The festival includes more than 30 live performances as well as Taste of Rockville for area restaurants to highlight their menus. Graf will be in charge of running the Taste of Rockville portion of the event next year.
“I’m really, really happy,” said Graf as she spoke from her hotel room in Maryland on Saturday before flying back to Vermont on Sunday. “There are so many opportunities here and nobody’s telling their story. I think that will be my strength.”
The position in Maryland will be different from Graf’s job in Vermont. The city of Rockville has a population of 67,000. Unlike her current job, Graf won’t be in charge of tourism or visitors. Instead, she’ll be running the chamber for the city.
“The scary thing for me is that now I have to sell my house,” said Graf.
Graf, who lives in Mount Holly, spent the past couple weeks saying goodbye and resigning from other roles. Graf was president of Vermont Association of Commerce Executives and she is past president of New England Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives.
“I’ve been here 10 years and I’ve been really invested in Vermont,” Graf said.
The Okemo Chamber includes 14 towns surrounding Ludlow. In her tenure, Graf grew the membership from about 200 when she started to about 425 members currently. Graf also helped launch the website, yourplaceinvermont.com.
“It’s not going to be the same without her,” said Sue Chadwick, director of member services at the Okemo Chamber. Chadwick and Graf were the only two employees at the Chamber.
“I think all of us were totally in shock just because she’s always been there,” Chadwick said.
Graf will be in Vermont for the next five weeks to help train the next yet-to-be-named CEO. A planner, she has already mapped out marketing and events for the year ahead. “The place won’t miss a beat,” she said.
Graf’s departure comes when new Chamber board members were elected. Echo Lake Inn owner Tom Gianola will be the incoming president, Terry Bane from Imery’s will be the vice president, Kevin Theissen from Skygate Financial Services will be the treasurer and Gail Graves-Beardmore will be the secretary.