WESTFIELD – After nine years on the job, the Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce’s Executive Director Kate Phelon announced on April 27 that she will be retiring in September.
Phelon reflected on her early years with the chamber and explained that she had little experience when she took the job but had help in learning what to do. “I had a mentor, Gail Sherman from the Chicopee Chamber, she was just instrumental in helping me get onboarded,” she said.
She explained that she had to take several steps when she first started but her experience living in Westfield helped make the job easier. She said, “I had to hire staff right from the beginning, I had to learn who the members were, and I had a lot to learn. But because of my background in being in Westfield so long, for 40 years, I knew a lot of people so that was the easy part of it.”
One of the biggest events the chamber does every year is its St. Patrick’s Day breakfast and Phelon said that it’s one of her favorites. “We honor the Sons of Erin, the Colleens, and everyone involved with the St. Patrick’s Day Parade from the Westfield contingency. I’ve had awesome speakers at those breakfasts so those have been really, really memorable,” she said.
She added that she was heartbroken the chamber could not hold this year’s breakfast. “This year I had a fabulous program planned and we couldn’t have it. It brought tears to my eyes that we could not have that breakfast. I had record numbers attending, I had a fabulous keynote speaker planned. It was a sad day when we couldn’t have that historic breakfast.”
The other event that she explained to be one of the most memorable is the annual breakfast with the 104th Fighter Wing. She said that at one of the breakfasts former commander of the wing, Major General George Keefe, gave her a gift that she still has to this day. She said, “When he left the base, I wasn’t expecting anything from him, but he gave me a military coin that he only gives out to pilots and special military personnel that do something above and beyond and a framed picture of the base. That meant so much to me and I’ll never forget that.”
Phelon said that as executive director one of her biggest goals was to work directly with the members and try to do what is best for them. “These events are for the members, it’s not about me. Everything we do is to help the members or to benefit the members in one way shape or form,” she said.
She explained that she is leaving the chamber in the best possible position to succeed and will help with the onboarding process for the new director.
With her retirement still a few months away, Phelon said that she has plenty of ideas about what she wants to do but does not have any concrete plans yet. “I’m going to breathe a little after I step down, but I’m hoping to work part-time. Then I’m hoping to get involved with some of my passions, including getting more involved with the library. I also want to spend more time with my granddaughter but I’m going to take it one day at a time.”
She added that she loved her time with the chamber and everything she has done with it over the past nine years. She said, “I’m very emotional about leaving the chamber, this has been such an amazing journey. I’m going to miss my members and I have a fabulous board of directors. It’s been such a privilege at the benefit of the board and the members, and I’ve been humbled by this experience. It’s just been a wonderful, wonderful journey.”