Belgrade Chamber of Commerce Regrettably Says: Farewell to Debe Youngberg
by Angie Ripple
For the past 32 years, Debe Youngberg has held down the fort at the Belgrade Chamber of Commerce as the Executive Director. In December, she will hang her hat and retire from her full-time position. The Belgrade community will never forget the dedication and passion for Belgrade that Debe has had over three decades; she will be missed. Here is what Debe had to say about the past and future of the Belgrade Chamber.
Angie Ripple: Please start by telling us about how you came to be the Executive Director of the Belgrade Chamber of Commerce?When did you start, and what made you decide to apply?
Debe Youngberg: I had belonged to a community service organization called the Jaycees. I was very active in that organization serving as President locally, a District Vice President, and two State Offices. Through that organization, I learned to organize and run programs and projects, work with volunteers, do reports, newsletters, etc. When the volunteer board of the Belgrade Chamber of Commerce decided it was time to hire an Executive Secretary to work part-time, one of the Board Members who was also in Jaycees with me suggested I apply. So I did, and they hired me. It was 10am-2pm, so I could see my kids off to school and be home when they got home. They were old enough in the summer to stay those few hours by themselves and I was not that far away. I love to organize and this organization was in need of that. It is hard for volunteers to work and keep everything in this organization running. I started July 5th 1986. They had me do the newsletter, answer the phone, do the correspondence and organize the committees and events. Back then, they had Fall Festival, Crazy Days and Annual Dinner.
AR: What are some things you wish more people understood about the Belgrade community?
DY: Belgrade is not just a bedroom community. There are so many small businesses here that no one even knows that they are here. Even though there isn’t a lot of retail, there is definitely a great business community. Many don’t know where Belgrade was 30 years ago, 20 years ago. Belgrade has changed so much and has come so far. Our business community has grown, but unfortunately there is more of it outside the City limits. Adding the new Interchange and the property to the South will help add to our tax base. Belgrade is a volunteer city, meaning if something is going to be done it is by volunteers. We have some of the best baseball, softball & soccer programs due to the summer volunteer programs. They take pride in their fields and have made them some of the best in the state. Our building was built with all volunteers! On a whole, most Belgrade citizens are fiercely loyal to Belgrade, and it is a very laid back and friendly community. And lastly, not everyone moves to Belgrade because they can’t afford somewhere else. There are some, but the majority of people live in Belgrade because they want to. They like the smaller city life with the advantage that 9 miles away there are tons of amenities. We have a great school system and it is a great place to live and do business.
AR: What would you like the Belgrade Chamber to do better in the future?
DY: There are always things that an organization could do better. We need to get our members to toot their own horn more, and share why they belong to the Chamber. They are the best salesmen because they use the product. If we had more members, we would have more revenue to fund more staff and programs. Having our own building is great but the costs and time to maintain the building is a big chore. For a small Chamber, we actually do a lot. We need to keep on top of better ways to communicate to our members. There are always new technology that would be great to have if we could afford it.
AR: What was your best or worst day on the job?
DY: My best day on the job was when we moved into this beautiful building knowing the love, sweat and tears that went into it. The worst day is always when someone decides to drop their membership. I still take it too personally; I believe so much in what the Chamber offers, it is hard for me to understand why a business wouldn’t want to be a member.
AR: What has surprised you most about working with the Belgrade Community?
DY: I love the “Can Do” attitude of the Belgrade Community. They see something they want, and they go after it. Every Fall Festival, I see all the people celebrating their community and it makes me smile. Fall Festival is a fun family event that doesn’t cost anything. The Parade is free, the BBQ is free, and the Kids Activities are free. If you ask most Alums of Belgrade about their favorite thing, most will say Fall Festival. I love the faces of the kids at our Agriculture Committee’s Annual Farm Fair. Some of these 4th graders have never been exposed to any kind of a farm or ranch life. Watching them with the animals, taking their first horse drawn wagon ride or making tin can ice cream. Volunteers make these projects happen. When a family has a need, the community rallies around them.
AR: Tell me about some of the people you’ve met while working with the Belgrade Chamber.
DY: That is the best part of the job, the people. That is what I will miss the most. I met Ed Iverson who was a Sheriff back in the 30s & 40s. He would stop and tell me stories about the Log Cabin that was our office for a while. I met Wilbur Spring who was the most knowledgeable man when it came to history about Belgrade and the area. He would also stop by my office and I could sit and listen to his stories all day. I was fortunate to work with Joe Menicucci, who was our City Manager for many years. He was such an expert on economic development and I learned a lot from him. Harry Erickson was Superintendent of Schools and instrumental in securing the Special Events Center and the Auditorium. He was so loyal to Belgrade and would encourage teachers to live in the district. You saw him out doing projects for the Lions Club and you always saw him at every school event. Dan Gustafson from Lee & Dads was a great example of an excellent business person in Belgrade. He has a heart as big as an ocean and always had a smile and kind word for everyone. The list is very long; the people are what made this job so enjoyable.
AR: What’s your personal philosophy on what should be done with the Belgrade Chamber?
DY: That is up to the members and the Board. It is their organization; I was just the keeper of the keys. I have built a strong foundation and someone can build on that. I hope that whomever is hired has the deep love for Belgrade that I do and takes this Chamber to new heights. They need to continue to be an association of business people working to improve the economic and civic vitality of our community...an organization financed entirely by member investment and projects...independent of all other organizations and groups. Many people think we are a Community Service Organization, but our first priority is to our member businesses.
AR: A community member and business owner told me you “work tirelessly for the Belgrade community.” How would you respond to that statement?
DY: When you love something so much you want to see it progress. It has been my passion and my life for so long, but it’s time for others to step up and carry the torch. I will still be around and probably get talked into volunteering for something!
AR: So, retirement. What are your plans?
DY: Travel, spend time with my family and my grandkids. My mother passed away at a young age and there were things she always planned to do but never got to. I just have a lot places I want to go, places and things I want my grandkids to see and do. Just relax, fly by the seat of my pants, and not be so scheduled.
For over 30 years, Debe Youngberg has been the friendly face behind the Belgrade Chamber of Commerce. Her ability to connect local businesses with local consumers and news outlets is part of the fabric that has held the tight-knit community of Belgrade together. Belgrade is a unique community, undergoing tremendous growth while trying to maintain small-town character. Youngberg has played a tremendous role in how this growth is managed and her support for Belgrade businesses will be missed.