The Rockford Chamber of Commerce ended the decade in style with an annual members dinner at Thousand Oaks the evening of Friday, January 17. The turnout was terrific for this event, beginning with a bar and appetizers and time to socialize before the entertainment and awards that followed dinner.
Dinner was amazing and the speaker, Jason Russell, was great. His humorous account of his own business as a security specialist made the audience aware of the dangers of elderly women. As a former U.S. Secret Service Special Agent guarding former presidents and vice presidents, his experience for such a career is appropriate. He also had experience working Internet crimes against children and a Marshall’s Fugitive Task Force. He noted safety vestibules such as those installed in all of Rockford’s schools were his idea. He holds multiple masters degree in his field.
MCs Curtis Avalon and Ted Sees topped last year’s “confetaroni” outfits with new candy-colored suits in hot pink, surprising the audience by switching from conventional suits to their eye-popping regalia on stage. Their clothing change prompted Russell to note, “This is the first key-note speech where two dudes took their pants off before I spoke.”
Russell called his job “unfortunate but necessary” and identified a major threat in the United States as elderly women. He said his first call as a law enforcement representative was a domestic incident and he was injured by an elderly woman. He said, during his career, he was burned by a cigarette by an elderly lady and dragged by a car. “I can’t watch Golden Girls without heart palpatations.”
Russell said through his life and his career a “pretty healthy dose of delusion” has served him well, from his ambitions to be in the Secret Service since he was a kid to his second career with his own business. “Business people have a healthy delusion,” he said. “They do things others wouldn’t think possible.”
He said his delusion lead him to apply to the Secret Service, and during his career there he saw two presidents in their underwear. “Not the good ones, either.” He said he protected Carter, Bush and Ford and was in charge of security at Ford’s funeral here in Grand Rapids.
Russell said he had had a great job, with a car, free gym membership. His wife owns a business, Milestones Childcare. “Having a wife with a business made me want to start a business.” Since his background was in security, he decided to help businesses be secure. “Don’t be paranoid, but be prepared.” He said he has clients all over the United States. He said, ironically, the security issues he’s dealt with didn’t happen in the work setting, but in people’s personal space. He teaches Situational Awareness, “We have to do a better job knowing what to do.”
“In an emergency, employees don’t rise to the occasion, they sink to their level of preparedness,” he said. Once an emergency happens, it is too late to go back. He suggested business owners not take drastic steps for security after an incident happens but take small steps along the way before something happens.
He said business ownership isn’t for everyone, and it can be an uncertain lifestyle. “There were times I thought I’d have a private jet someday, some days I googled soup kitchens.” He said he sold his business in 2018 but didn’t like how they ran it. “I bought it back for three times what I sold it for. That was a terrible idea.”
Curtis Avalon, one of the evening’s MCs, works for Storypoint, Independent Senior Living here in Rockford, said he was concerned about the elderly women comments.
Linda Southwick, Executive Director of the Rockford Chamber of Commerce, said the evening’s event was the 57th annual meeting. She offered some statistics and a year in review, noting in 2019 the Chamber had 343 members, a record. The theme was Here for You. The Expo celebrated the 15th year and is the largest of its kind in West Michigan. Scholarships offered by the Chamber increased in 2019 to four. Start of Summer was an eye-popping success, although Sunday was soggy. Volunteers put together 500 welcome bags with over 80 items.
Harvest Festival featured Miss Michigan and service dogs, hayrides, antique tractors and scarecrows. The Lighting Ceremony and Holiday Open Houses started off the holiday season and Santa Parade featured 75 floats, Santa, Mrs. Clause and holiday carriage rides. There were 23 separate meetings in 2019 starting with last year’s annual meeting.
The talented Jeff Lewis led the room in a Decade in Review in song to the tune of American Pie and touched on some of the significant happenings of the last ten years, of which there have been many. The evening ended with awards going to some of our community’s best and most dedicated business people and Chamber supporters. Finally, gifts and prizes were awarded based on random drawings of business cards collected throughout 2019. It was a satisfying, successful night of entertainment and camaraderie. Thank you, Chamber and its members.