By Jeff Keeling and Scott Robertson
You’d have thought it was a hundred-year anniversary or something the way smiles, laughs and reminiscences made their way around the headquarters of the Chamber of Commerce serving Johnson City-Jonesborough-Washington County on Monday.
Then again, it was.
An august yet jovial group of former board chairs joined other chamber members; local, state and federal government leaders; and other dignitaries on the Chamber’s “official” 100th birthday.
Speakers representing the private and public sectors extolled the Chamber for the crucial role it has played in the community’s growth and prosperity.
Congressman Phil Roe, whose political career began across the street from the Chamber headquarters at city hall, told a crowd of around 150 business and community leaders, “I have had a chance to work with the Chamber and watch business development here in Johnson City for the last 20 years and I think it’s just amazing the job they have done. (Chamber President) Gary (Mabrey) has been an amazing leader of this Chamber for decades now and the entire city has been blessed by his leadership.”
Mabrey returned the favor, lauding the collaboration between the private sector, represented by the Chamber, and government.
Many of the smiles and memories were elicited by the opening of a time capsule that had been filled with memorabilia from the Chamber’s 75th year in 1990 and then closed up for a quarter century.
The celebration followed a quieter meeting inside Mabrey’s office during Monday’s lunch hour. It was then that Mabrey and his 1990 chairman, Richard Manahan, took their first look at what had gone into the time capsule all those years ago.
“There’s some great things in there,” Mabrey said as the pair pulled out photo after photo, copies of the “Johnson City Business” magazine, and treats such as an oversized championship ring commemorating the East Tennessee State University men’s basketball team’s success.
Manahan, the first ETSU representative to serve as board chair, recalled the cementing of a “town-gown” relationship between ETSU and Johnson City that flourishes to this day. Several stories came up of former President Gerald Ford’s visit to Johnson City in 1990.
In the end, Mabrey said he had three things to say to the community on behalf of the Chamber. “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”