“We really just kept moving forward,” said Albia Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Laura Teno about how the organization she serves dealt with the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Sometimes after talking with people who are still in either self lockdown or are in communities that haven’t opened up, I have to take a step back,” she said. “I came to work every day. Almost all of our events happened safely. At some level it’s hard to relate to people who haven’t been out of the house in a year.”
Teno credits a Chamber board that took seriously the threat of the Coronavirus, but didn’t fear it. “We still followed all of the governor’s guidelines, but instead of just getting scared, we decided to work with those guidelines.”
A perfect example was the June rodeo. Professional and amateur rodeos all over the United States were shut down. “The guideline was for 50 percent capacity, wearing face masks and social distancing,” said Teno. “Instead of simply deciding to shut down, our board went out to the fairgrounds, measured the seating and made our decision based on that.”
Come to find out, had the rodeo reached 50 percent capacity, it would have been the largest crowd in history. The Chamber Rodeo and Dan Larson Memorial Bull ride was held.
“We made a lot of adjustments to our regular year,” she said. “We promoted the radio station’s scooping the loop and had people waving to their neighbors, things like that.”
The biggest loss in the Chamber’s year was the cancellation of Rodders, a really fine car show directed by Dwayne Repp. “It was a really tough call,” said Repp last summer. “A lot of the people who attend are older and a large majority of car and tractor owners are 60 years old on up to their mid-80s. It just made more sense to come down on the side of caution,” he added.
Rodders is back this summer, moved from its third week in June date to the last Saturday in August.
The Victorian Stroll also took a hit in terms of live windows, the Monroe County Hospital Foundation children’s Christmas party at the Trinity Family Life Center and big gatherings typically held during the day and attendance suffered. But Catherine Burkman and her committee still had decorations in every window and the square was decked out in its finest.
The Chamber also did a virtual annual meeting instead of their big banquet and a Valentine’s promotion was scuttled.
The biggest weekend of the year occurred the end of August when the Monroe County 4-H Fair was held, Restoration Days went off without a hitch and dozens of girls softball fans were returning from the state tournament in Fort Dodge.
Adjustments were made to some of the fair events, but the livestock show and grandstand events all were successfully held.
The Chamber’s regularly scheduled fund-raising golf tournaments were probably easiest to manage. “The state really never shut down golfing,” said Teno.
The other aspect of community life Teno thinks about is the business community. “In a lot of ways, the past year has been good for local business,” she said. “A trip to Des Moines to shop was a nightmare, so people stayed home. We actually had a number of new businesses open in the past year.”
Teno said she is proud of the way Albia and Monroe County navigated the year of COVID-19. “I think we were pretty much of one mind,” she said. “We wanted to be careful, but we also wanted to live our lives.”
As for the spring and summer in the life of the Chamber, Teno said its “full steam ahead.”
“I think we’re all thankful we had a governor who understood the importance of having kids in school and businesses open,” she said. “So far, were looking at a spring and summer with few restrictions.”