Virgili, retiring, reflects on 32 years with Glenwood chamber
Through some of the most challenging times and quite a few good times, Marianne Virgili has been one of the constants in the community for 32 years with the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association.
Now, as she prepares to retire at the end of the year from her longtime position as president and CEO for the organization and pass the baton to longtime chamber protege Angie Anderson, Virgili is certain Glenwood Springs has some of its greatest times ahead.
“With the completion of the largest construction project on the Western Slope in 25 years, the future for the chamber and community is bright,” Virgili said on the occasion of her retirement announcement last week, referencing the soon-to-be-completed Grand Avenue bridge project.
“It’s a perfect time for the transition of leadership,” she said.
The chamber board has decided to hire 10-year chamber employee and current GSCRA Executive Vice President Anderson as the new president and CEO of the organization.
Anderson, who grew up in Glenwood Springs and returned after earning a degree in organizational management at Colorado State University, said it’s her dream job. She credits Virgili in many ways with preparing her for the challenge.
“Marianne has taught me, by example, the importance of thinking big, working hard, building strong relationships and striving for excellence,” Anderson said. “This community has benefited immensely from her leadership, and I am honored and grateful to call her my mentor.”
Virgili’s first month on the job as special events coordinator for the chamber back in 1985 saw one of the worst disasters the city has seen, when 12 employees of Rocky Mountain Natural Gas were killed in a propane explosion at the company’s warehouse on Devereux Road.
She recalled that CBS News anchor Dan Rather came to town to interview then-chamber chief Stebbins Dean about how the community was reacting to the tragedy, and asking what set Glenwood Springs apart.
Dean’s response was that, while every community, large and small, cares about its people, what made Glenwood different was that people here just happen to know everyone and had a personal connection to the families.
It was something that stuck with Virgili, who two years later was named executive director for the chamber at a crucial time in the organization’s history.
Dean had been the first professional chamber director in Glenwood. Though he had sent Virgili to train at the Institution for Organization Management, she recalls that the chamber board at first was a bit hesitant to hire her.
But the former public relations director for Ski Sunlight who had honed her marketing skills in Cleveland proved to be the right person at the right time as the chamber took on a key marketing role for Glenwood Springs.
It was then-City Manager Mike Copp and the city’s leaders at the time who had the big idea.
“He came to the chamber office one day and said he felt we needed to merge all of the city’s tourism functions under one roof, and he said that needed to be the chamber,” Virgili recalled.
A task force was organized, and in relative short order the chamber took on what had been a separate central reservations system and the city’s tourism promotion efforts. The name was changed from the Glenwood Springs Chamber of Commerce to the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association.
“It was a real changing point for our organization and for Glenwood Springs,” Virgili said.
What had been a piecemeal effort by individual businesses such as the Hot Springs Pool and Sunlight to market themselves suddenly became a coordinated marketing pitch for Glenwood as a whole, using money from the city’s dedicated lodging tax.
Virgili’s tenure at the chamber saw the lean times of the post-oil-shale-bust years in the mid-1980s, disasters including the gas explosion, the Storm King Fire that claimed the lives of 14 federal wildland firefighters, and the Coal Seam Fire that burned several homes in West Glenwood.
“Along the way, we also celebrated election victories, helped entertain thousands of people at Strawberry Days; and applauded outstanding businesses and leaders with community awards,” she said of the chamber’s annual citizen of the year, Athena and volunteer awards.
“I look at the people I’ve worked with who chaired our board, and they are really the icons of Glenwood Springs,” Virgili said. “They were all just incredible mentors to me, before I even knew what that word meant.”
Among them was former board president Molly Downs who encouraged the chamber to get involved in supporting local tax election issues that were deemed worthy. With that, Community on the Move became a function of the chamber whenever such issues arose.
It has gotten behind tax measures to build the Glenwood Springs Community Center and other city facilities, streets, trails and major infrastructure projects, and to support the fire department and other services.
“The opening of the Community Center was so momentous, because we had worked on that for 14 years,” Virgili said.
Colorado Mountain College’s purchase of the building at Eighth and Grand earlier this decade opened another door for the chamber, when it worked out a deal to move from its longtime digs in the old A-frame building at 11th and Grand into the lower level of the new CMC building. In addition to greatly expanded office space, the move allowed the chamber to establish a more central downtown visitors center.
Winning the honor of National Chamber of the Year by the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives in 2013 was a “little like winning an Academy Award,” Virgili said of one of the chamber’s crowning achievements in recent years.
“We had been a finalist three other times, and this was going to be our last shot,” she said. “You really need to have a phenomenal project to win that, and our move downtown with a state-of-the-art visitors center was a big contributor to that.”
Virgili also reflected on a project in the late 1990s that involved a rotating group of Glenwood Springs High School students, called the “A-Team.” Students worked in conjunction with the chamber to collect donations, sell brick pavers with sponsor names on them, and planned the design for the pedestrian mall along what had been the west wing street in the 700 block of Grand Avenue beneath the old bridge.
That area is now being redone as part of the new bridge project.
grooming a successor
Youth have always been welcome at the chamber, volunteering for special projects, being involved with Strawberry Days and often working internships or summer jobs.
One former GSHS student who wandered into the chamber was Anderson, who ended up landing a job at the front desk after her sophomore year.
“I hadn’t really intended to ask for a job, but I came in with a couple of friends and Marianne happened to be there,” Anderson recalled. “She knew my older sister, who was friends with her daughter, and she hired me on the spot.
“Marianne has been the best mentor ever, and I instantly learned how important it is to associate yourself with the right people,” she added. “And I was just interested in the impact this little organization had on the community.”
After graduating from CSU, with Virgili’s help, Anderson landed a job working on former state Rep. Gregg Rippy’s unsuccessful campaign for Congress in 2004. That led to a job with Rippy working on the new statewide internet portal authority, and the development of what became Colorado.gov, where she was a project manager.
After marrying high school sweetheart Scott Anderson, now a teacher at Glenwood Springs Elementary School, the mountains called and they returned home to Glenwood.
Again, she called Virgili to see about job opportunities, and lo and behold a chamber position had just opened up. They moved back in August of 2007, and she started at the chamber that October
When Virgili informed the board late last year that she intended to retire at the end of 2017, the board appointed a search committee and began planning for the succession. The job was posted first for internal staff, and Anderson was the lone applicant.
CHANGE IS JAN. 1
Rather than conducting a national search, the board ultimately decided Anderson, with her many years of dedication to the chamber already, was the one for the job.
Virgili will step aside at the end of this year, and Anderson will take the helm on Jan. 1.
Writing and film are two of Virgili’s interests to which she said she wants to dedicate more time after she retires. There are also grandchildren, long walks, exercise … “all those things you don’t get to do as much with a full-time job,” she said.
She also credited her husband, John Virgili, a local CPA for many years, for his support over the years, not to mention many volunteer hours for chamber events himself.
Former chamber board president and Community on the Move leader Michael McCallum noted that the many larger community projects that came about over the past three decades have all benefitted from Virgili’s efforts.
“She continually impressed the community with her healthy attitude that became contagious for us all,” he said.
And, “Glenwood Springs being designated ‘Best Small Town in America’ — Virgili’s finger prints are all over that little gem,” McCallum also said of that recent honor.
In addition to her work in Glenwood Springs, Virgili was also national chair of the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for Organizational Management and is a member of the U.S. Chamber’s Committee of 100. She formed the Glenwood Springs Film Commission and was appointed by the governor to the boards of the Colorado Film Commission and Colorado Creative Industries.
Virgili’s retirement celebration is planned during the chamber’s annual gala and awards night on Saturday, Jan. 27, at the Hotel Colorado.
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