By Ryan Cornell
STRASBURG -- The Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce didn't just hire anybody to fill its executive director position; it hired a distant cousin of sorts.
Jackie Thompson, who's worked as the administrative assistant for the Strasburg Chamber of Commerce since October 2006, will start her first day on Monday as the county chamber's executive director.
"The email the president sent to the [Strasburg] chamber membership made mention that I felt more like a family member than an employee," she said. "And it feels like a family. It's always hard to leave family."
Thompson will continue to live in Strasburg and will often work alongside her old "family" at her new office in Woodstock.
She said she brings a communications background, a friendly personality and an extensive knowledge of the county to the position.
Thompson grew up in Clover Hill, a small community west of Harrisonburg, and said she had wanted to become an overseas news correspondent since she was in middle school. She served as the editor of multiple newspapers, including the North Fork Journal in Broadway and the Shenandoah Journal in Dayton, before working for her parents' farm and as a field technician for the United Federation of Dairy Herd Improvement Association.
"The way that worked out, I got married in 2006 and had to move to this area from where I lived and I was looking for a job and read the notice in the paper and thought it was something I could do," she said. "I applied and the rest is history, I guess."
Wade Zirkle, president of the Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce, said the search for an executive director began on July 16 when the previous director, Jenna French, announced to the board she was stepping away to serve as the county's tourism and marketing director.
Zirkle said the application period for the job ended July 31 and attracted seven applicants, four of whom were brought in for an interview and three for a second interview.
He said Thompson was chosen among "several really strong, qualified candidates" by a five-person board vote on Aug. 12.
"Jackie has a wealth of relevant chamber experience, has a fantastic work ethic and a warm personality," he said in a phone call Friday. "Those three characteristic made her an outstanding candidate."
Thompson's experience with the Strasburg chamber stretches for seven years, but she admits she had a few butterflies heading into her first interview.
"I was extremely nervous," she said. "And it's hard to interview with people you know. And everybody that was interviewing me, I knew them, I worked with them."
She added that she felt much better about her second interview.
Her duties at the Shenandoah chamber will be similar to those of her Strasburg position, she said.
Zirkle said Thompson will be responsible for taking care of the chamber's 300 members, recruiting new members, making sure the business community is represented in local government and planning educational seminars for its members. Additionally, she will be in charge of running Autumnfest starting next year.
"It's a growing organization," Zirkle said about the chamber, which held its inaugural meeting in January. "And we're excited to have Jackie at the helm."
Although there's been some speculation about the future dissolving of the Strasburg and New Market chambers of commerce, the last remaining holdouts from joining the county chamber, Thompson said there's strong support for them to stay open.
"The desire is there for them to stay here," she said. "We'll support them for as long as they want. And if it ever gets to the point where they decide maybe it's time to become a part of the county chamber, we'll welcome them with open arms."
Thompson enjoys gardening, reading and going to concerts with her husband, Charles. Her salary as the executive director is $25,000.
Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org