MUSKEGON – What a drag for a teen-ager – growing up with no place to shop.
When Rhonda Skeba wanted to by that pair of Gap jeans, she had to go to Grand Rapids, since in Muskegon there were few national brand-name retailers in town at the time.
“People used to grumble, ‘There’s no good shopping here,’” said Skeba, who’s now finds herself working feverishly to help open the latest and largest addition to the retail landscape that the Muskegon area has ever seen.
Skeba is marketing director at The Lakes Mall that is scheduled to open Aug. 15, heralding in a new era in the Muskegon-area retail market and providing people plenty of new places to buy that pair of jeans or spend a day shopping.
“Now it’s right in our own backyard. It’s so neat we have so many choices now,” said Skeba, a 30-year-old Norton Shores native with a varied professional background.
While attending Mona Shores High School, Skeba was involved in student government and an organization that planned school events and fund-raisers. The experience whetted her taste for the public relations field, which she promptly pursued following her 1989 graduation.
“I liked all of the detail work. I thought, ‘There’s a field I can get into and get paid for doing all that stuff,’” Skeba said. “I knew it was a fit for me.”
After a year and a half at Muskegon Community College, Skeba transferred to Western Michigan University, where she earned a B.S. degree in 1993 in public relations, with a minor in journalism.
Her first job was with the local chapter of the American Cancer Society, a part-time position she took because it afforded her more opportunity to learn than did a competing job offer that offered more money. Looking back, taking the position with the Cancer Society, as well as subsequent job with other non-profits agencies, provided Skeba more opportunities to hone her skills and learn more than she would elsewhere.
“I learned so much,” Skeba said of the Cancer Society position. “I’m so glad I didn’t take the dollar sign. I don’t think I would have been where I am today if I didn’t work for the non-profits.”
Two months after joining the American Cancer Society, Skeba was promoted to full-time and given more responsibilities. She decided to leave the position after a year and a half to move with friends to Cancun, Mexico, where she worked for a tour group. When the Mexican government nine months later refused to renew work visas for thousands of foreign workers because of the devaluation of the Peso, Skeba took it as the cue to head home.
She landed at the former Muskegon Economic Growth Alliance, an organization that at the time consisted of the chamber of commerce, visitor’s bureau and an economic development arm. After a year and a half of handling membership services and event planning for MEGA, Skeba moved on to become a public relations specialist for Mercy General Health Partners, the organization resulting from the merger of Muskegon General Hospital and Muskegon Mercy Hospital.
While she was at Mercy General, Skeba’s former husband opened a Mexican restaurant in Whitehall. Skeba often went from her job at Mercy General to the restaurant, waiting on tables, cooking meals or washing dishes to help out.
She left the Mercy General position and moved with her former husband, who had landed a job in Orlando, Fla. Skeba, seeking a way to get home as often as possible, secured work as an airline attendant for Delta Airlines.
That, too, ran its course and Skeba returned to her hometown in January 1999. Later that year she went to work for the Child Abuse and Neglect Council and fund development director, a position she held until joining The Lakes Mall in April.
While she wasn’t looking to leave the Child Abuse and Neglect Council, the opportunity was one Skeba couldn’t pass up when it arose. How often, she asks, do you have a chance to become part of the opening of a new mall in your hometown?
“It was a great place, but this opportunity came up. It’s kind of the opportunity of a lifetime,” she said.
Skeba, now single, keeps plenty busy these days planning events for the grand opening celebration for the 700,000-square-foot mall, which will feature three anchors – Sears, Younkers and JCPenney – and more than 70 retail stores.
Once the grand opening has passed, Skeba will turn her full attention to overseeing the mall’s customer service, advertising, promotions, sponsorships and community relations.
A passionate booster of Muskegon, Skeba wants to call on her background working for non-profit organizations and plan events at the mall that provide a venue to promote its mission. She also looks forward to having more time to become involved in organizations as a volunteer and representing the mall in community outreach initiatives.
“I love this community. I want to be involved,” Skeba said.