Imagine a town with no businesses—only houses and a post office. Nowhere to go for entertainment, food, or shopping. No tax dollars getting redirected to the town to build up the community and provide places for fun, food, and fellowship. You would have to drive somewhere else anytime you wanted anything.
Enter the Chamber of Commerce, an organization whose purpose is to “advance human progress.” Suzanne Shirey has been right at the head of Sapulpa’s Chamber for the last 13 years.
Shirey first came to the Chamber as the finance assistant and moved into the President position after 5 years. The previous president, Betty Calley, made sure to equip Shirey by having her start training through a state program, Oklahoma Chamber of Commerce Executives. Suzanne said, “I appreciated that she did start that because that is so integral with chambers these days, especially for people who have no chamber experience.”
Shirey doesn’t acknowledge her successes and attributes all of the Chamber’s accomplishments during her tenure as President to “great board members, a great community, my chamber, and those that have been encouraging throughout the years.” She added that her team, with a special emphasis on Sheri Ismael-Waldrop, has played a huge part in running a successful chamber.
Of Ishmael-Waldrop, Shirey said, “She could be the photographer. She could be the editor. She put our Community Guide together, which is huge. I mean, you know, not only are we trying to sell the ads for that, but she actually puts it together and gets it ready for print. That’s huge.”
Shirey discussed how important her Chamber people are, saying that if you asked her husband Brent, he would say, “Her Chamber people are important—you’re family.”
After 18 years total with the Chamber, Shirey is resigning and the Board will announce her replacement soon.
She said that the best part of serving the Chamber has been “relationships, meeting business owners, meeting people of the community, and having those relationships…I wish to goodness I had the time to have those relationships with everybody, and I feel like there have been opportunities missed, that we could’ve done better on that.”
She went on to say that the reason they started doing Chamber meetings without a set program was so that they could work on building those crucial relationships and to give everyone a chance to get to know the businesses involved and give them a chance to pitch their “elevator speeches.”
Shirey said she knows the next Chamber president is going to do more out-of-the-box things, similar to the outdoor Dinner on Dewey event they held this year. She said “people want some change. They want to see things done differently and that’s why I’m so excited for the next one to come in. And they’ll just rock it out of the park!”
Without hesitation, Shirey says that the hardest aspect of her job, during her almost two-decade term, has been “COVID. Never saw anything like that coming.” She began to tear up when she talked about how “everyone had to pivot, even when they were scared” and how “proud of her members” she was. Shirey and Ishmael-Waldrop were in the Chamber office throughout COVID, when all they could do was disseminate information.
Business owners who want to plug into the community, should “be a member of the Chamber,” advises Shirey. “If they were a downtown business, I would tell them, they would also need to do Sapulpa Main Street.” She said that one of the things the Chamber does well is “letting people know, especially during legislative session…what laws are coming down. And we can be a catalyst.”
Awards and accomplishments garnered during Shirey’s time as President include her graduation from the University of Oklahoma Center of Chamber of Commerce Excellence, Advanced Studies, OG&E’s Economic Development Program, and the U.S. Chamber Institute of Organization Management. She also previously served as Chairman of the Oklahoma Chamber of Commerce Executives, currently serves as their MAKO (Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, and Oklahoma) Chair, and has received their Sheila Lee Executive of the Year award.
To her successor, she gives this advice: “Don’t be afraid to make changes. And don’t be afraid to give your Board new ideas. And as far-fetched as you think some of them might be, just, you know, go with it.” If you know someone you would like to nominate as a community hero, please write to email@example.com.