The Centralia-Chehalis Chamber of Commerce unveiled Cynthia Mudge as its new executive director during Friday’s annual chamber banquet following the departure of longtime director Alicia Fox, who led the organization for 10 years.
The event also saw Providence Health System announced as the Business of the Year.
“We closed a chapter with Alicia Bull as our executive director for 10 years, which is longer than the average director, and we were lucky to have her for a full 10 years,” Amanda Singleton, chamber board member and past president, told The Chronicle. “And it was a really great opportunity to introduce our new director Cynthia Mudge, and we are really excited to see what she has to offer our community.”
Mudge said she grew up in Seattle, but after her time as an adolescent, her parents bought a farm in the Lewis County area and spent the rest of their lives in the community.
She said they fell in love with the area.
Now, Mudge will live at the farm she owns with her sister.
“I get to live on the farm and have goats and sheep, and my sister and I — she’s 10 years younger — we never had the chance to live near each other as adults,” Mudge said at the banquet. “So I’m really excited about being here and learning more about the community that my parents loved so much. … I want to get your thoughts about where you want to be and where you want to go. So thank you so much.”
Hotel Washington’s upstairs event room was packed Friday night as more than 250 Centralia-Chehalis Chamber of Commerce members and guests crammed into the space.
The room was lively and active, with attendees networking and celebrating their hard work over the year in the kind of event that has become rare in recent times due to the pandemic.
“We were still booking people who were trying to come in hours before,” Chamber Board President Lindy Waring told The Chronicle. “We were still selling tickets an hour or two before the event, and we could not squeeze any more in there.”
In fact, there were so many people who wanted to participate that chamber representatives were adding chairs to already full tables to fit as many people into the event as possible.
With tickets set at $50 a seat, or $300 a table, proceeds from the ticket sales were set to pay for the event’s overhead, but then any extra money made went into the fund that pays for the organization’s operational costs.
But the event wasn’t just a vehicle to help pay for the chamber’s day-to-day work. It was also a scholarship fundraiser for the Rob Fuller Scholarship Fund.
During the social hour, guests had the opportunity to bid on over 30 baskets of silent auction items that ranged from local business gift cards to seasonal apparel.
“I’m wearing a new Northface sweater that I picked up in a basket,” Singleton said. “I think it was a very successful evening. I think the attendance was wonderful. We had a full house and everybody was excited to be out and supporting the chamber.”
Attendees also had the opportunity to buy raffle tickets for the scholarship fund, with a couple of the prizes being a TV and a chainsaw.
As dinner — which consisted of gourmet macaroni and cheese along with chicken and beef options — came to a close, the scholarship fund received even more support. Tables participated in a dessert run where guests donated money secretly, and then the table that raised the most money got first pick from a table laden with a plethora of sweet treats. The table with the next highest contribution to the fund got to pick second, and so on.
When all was said and done, the Rob Fuller Scholarship fund was thousands of dollars richer, paving the way for many more high school seniors to receive aid in their post-high-school pursuits.
Waring told The Chronicle that Rob Fuller, who the scholarship fund is named after, was like a second father to her, but he meant even more to the community.
“He was always really involved in the chamber and was on the chamber board,” she said. “He was a really good local businessman. … It’s just who he was, so when Rob passed away, we created the Rob Fuller Scholarship Fund. And that’s what we do. All of our fundraisers go to that.”
Dianne Dorey, Lewis County assessor, said she’s been supporting the chamber board and helping to put on events like the banquet since 1999 as an ambassador for the organization.
Dorey and the other ambassadors gathered up deserts for the dessert dash and auction items for the baskets, set up the banquet hall and also cleaned everything up.
Of the event, she said, “It was nice networking with all the folks and seeing everybody out and about again — it’s been a long time.”
“(The event) gives me an opportunity to network with all the folks who are my clients as taxpayers,” Dorey said. “I get to meet the folks who are behind the businesses. It’s nice to be able to meet them in a less-formal setting than across my desk or across their desk as we are talking about their valuations.”
When presenting Providence with the Business of the Year recognition, Waring said the nonprofit helped the community get back to work last year through financial support to help the chamber facilitate several hiring events.
In an acceptance speech for the award, Kevin Caserta, site administrator of Providence Centralia Hospital and the chief medical officer for Providence Southwest Washington, said he was “so honored to be up here today representing our caregivers.”
“We need excellent jobs in Lewis County,” Caserta said. “We need affordable housing, infrastructure, teachers, (and) other nonprofits. And the reality is, the only way we’re going to make this the best county in the state of Washington is by doing it together. So never forget that what you do at the chamber is so much more than economics. You make differences in people’s lives — so thank you for that.”
And if Singleton’s experience with the chamber is like that of its members, the community Caserta spoke of is far-reaching.
“The chamber means a lot to me,” Singleton said. “I’ve been on the board for over 10 years now. The chamber is so supportive of our local businesses. It creates all of the networking opportunities. I think it helps us as a community to have a vision for our community.”