ZEELAND — The opportunity was just right for Ann Query.
After selling the retail clothing store she had co-owned for years with her mother, and with two children in high school and feeling that she wanted to remain involved in the community, a position running the Zeeland Chamber of Commerce seemed a nice fit.
Fourteen years later, Query can’t see herself doing anything other than serving as executive director for the Zeeland Chamber. The job, she says, comes with a wide array of responsibilities that continue to make it interesting and challenging.
On a given day she’ll go from meeting with store owners on plans for the redevelopment of downtown Zeeland, to working with area schools on career-preparation initiatives for students, to helping a person who walks into the office looking for networking opportunities as she searches for a new job, to helping to arrange business counseling for a would-be entrepreneur.
The life of a small-town chamber of commerce even had Query pausing during a recent conversation to remind herself to change some burned-out light bulbs in the office.
“It’s the kind of work that never has an end. It’s kind of like running a business,” she said.
“It has more challenges in a day than there are hours,” said Query, a Zeeland native who lives in the house where she grew up and went into business after she and her husband, John, returned home in 1979 following his service in the U.S. Air Force.
The two met while attending Hope College, where Query earned her undergraduate degree in English. She later earned a master’s in community leadership from Central Michigan University while John was stationed at the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda.
Query’s mother, Evie Van Dorp, had been involved in the founding of the Dutchess Shop, a clothing store for women, years earlier as part of a community collective. She bought out other stockholders in the business in 1972 and later opened Dutchess Career Plus, a uniform store.
After she and John moved to Zeeland, Query joined her mother and took over managing one of the stores.
In 1988, with the retail environment changing rapidly in the wake of the new Westshore Mall and downtown Holland’s major revitalization effort to restore the shopping district, the two women decided to move on. The increasingly competitive nature of the business and the additional time it was taking, especially with a need to extend store hours, led Query and her mother to sell the business.
“Times were changing,” she said. “It was getting to be more work and less fun, so we were looking for new opportunities.”
That opportunity arose at the Zeeland Chamber of Commerce, where Query had served on the board of directors for a year. With the part-time position of executive director open at the time, Query applied for the job, viewing it as the right fit to keep her involved in the community — particularly issues involving downtown — yet give her plenty of time to devote to family.
“It was perfect,” she said. “A half-time sounded wonderful and I had a very strong interest in the future of the community.”
But soon after she started, the job evolved into more of a full-time position than part-time. Over the years, Query has managed the chamber as its responds to a changing and rapidly growing community that has a business base consisting of a diverse assortment of small business and global corporations like Herman Miller Inc., Howard Miller Clock Co. and Gentex Corp., and everything in between.
Working with that kind of diverse constituency is what keeps the job fascinating for Query.
“I don’t know what else I’d do that offers me the kind of diversity,” she said. “A chamber becomes kind of the go-to spot for a lot of things.”