From his desk that affords views to the south and west of the Creston Valley, Mike Fitzpatrick has a pile of work to do, and not much time to stare out the windows.
Fitzpatrick assumed his duties as manager of the Creston Valley Chamber of Commerce Feb. 15, and already he is attending meetings, studying reports and meeting with key people in the community. He acknowledges that the job has his challenges, but his passion for the Creston Valley, experience in promotions, organizing and management, and a determination to make a difference are all qualities that should serve him well.
“We are working on a strategic plan but key for us is to retain existing businesses and attract new businesses,” he said.
Attracting new membership is also a top priority. The chamber is a non-profit organization that relies on membership fees to drive its ability to provide services to members. Businesses, Fitzpatrick said, can expect a visit, in which he will introduce himself and outline the many benefits of membership.
He and his wife, Eileen, relocated to the Creston Valley a year ago after retiring from their jobs in Calgary. But they were hardly strangers to the area. Both have relatives in the area and Fitzpatrick has fond memories of childhood vacations when his dad would stop the car to pick up fruit on the way to Christina Lake. Eileen’s parents had an orchard in Canyon, where the couple now resides.
Born in Edmonton and raised in Calgary, Fitzpatrick attended university in both cities and was politically active early in his life.
“I was a Young Liberal, but as I got older I became a fiscal conservative and a social liberal,” he smiled.
After university, he applied for jobs in the fire department (the dream ended because he was asthmatic) and the RCMP (there was a six- or seven-year wait list at the time) and he went to work at Canada Post.
A long-standing passion started when he was asked to represent the organization on the United Way campaign.
“Then Canada Post went on strike and I had to cross a picket line to get my cheque — imagine how it felt knowing I had to get striking workers on board with our United Way efforts!
“But we had a successful campaign because I involved children — because nobody hates a kid!”
The inspiration to involve youngsters came from his six-year-old nephew, who overheard his uncle talking about United Way.
“I’ll help you, Uncle Mike,” he said.
That campaign involved organizing events to include youth groups like Boys and Girls Clubs, and Cubs and Scouts.
“I realized I had a skill in bringing people together.”
When he was seconded by Canada Post to United Way for a year the experiences he gained would change his life.
“I learned every aspect of management — it was incredible,” Fitzpatrick said. “It had a great impact on me as a person because of what I saw could be done.”
Since relocating to Creston, he and Eileen have been busy learning to maintain an orchard and figuring out how to downsize, sorting through a lifetime of accumulations. And they have quickly become involved in their new community. Both are members of the Creston Rotary Club and Fitzpatrick is on the board of directors at Spectrum Farms and active in related organizations. He is a tennis enthusiast and joined the tennis club, playing regularly against one particular member.
“I told people I was playing a fellow named Alex who was really good for a 60-year-old.”
Later, he would see the Alex Nilsson Field at the Creston and District Community Complex and his curiosity would lead to a Google search of the name.
“I couldn’t believe it when I learned about his amazing history, including being a member of the Order of Canada, and that he is 80, not 60!”
A tour of the area by Nilsson introduced Fitzpatrick to Spectrum Farms, and he was soon volunteering, following the footsteps of his new friend.
Fitzpatrick admits he was a last-minute applicant for the manager’s position.
“From what I have seen, the chamber could be doing better,” he said. “I really care about Creston, and the chamber of commerce carries a big weight — we are responsible for bettering the lives of many people.
“I know there is a tremendous amount of assets here — probably even more so than in the city. A chamber of commerce needs to have a strong vision, strategic goals and marketing and public relations plans. We hope to make an impact by helping people to help themselves.”