The Waconia business community gave its long-time Chamber of Commerce president Kellie Sites a fond retirement send-off last Thursday, June 25, at its first in-person Chamber meeting since the coronavirus pandemic limited social gatherings – a luncheon held at Sovereign Estate Winery.
Although the gregarious Chamber leader and frequent host and emcee for community events joked, “I will never give up this microphone,” she did yield it long enough for friends and colleagues to share some memories and praises for Sites for her 14 years with the Chamber, 12 as president.
“Who else could introduce an entire room,” Jan Held, retired Ridgeview Foundation business and event coordinator said of Sites’ opening welcome about each of the nearly 100 guests in attendance. Held then went on to thank Sites for her “inspiration and leadership.”
“Bring it on, we can make this happen was always Kellie’s motto,” she said.
“You were always so willing to try anything,” The Stash owner Summer Jensen said, noting that it was Sites who helped restore and re-invent Waconia’s annual Christmas tree lighting event with school administrators dressed as holiday characters.
Chamber members also highlighted other events, including a past meeting held inside a new water tower that the city had just erected, as well as community promotions like DEAR Hunting, the Scarecrow Tour and, of course, Nickle Dickle Day.
“Kellie is the best professional community cheerleader I have ever met,” said Waconia Mayor Kent Bloudek.
“I love Kellie’s energy, passion and smile. You are guaranteed to have a good laugh at any meeting she’s part of,” said Christine Fenner, who was named new Chamber president in May and officially takes over July 1.
Fenner also noted that Sites signs her emails “Working for you.”
“That’s absolutely 100 percent true,” she said.
“Kellie has been a constant voice for the business community, and I’m grateful when she and you come down to the capitol,” Minnesota House Rep. Jim Nash, former Waconia councilman and mayor, told Sites and business leaders.
Chamber colleague Carmen Gesinger charted their partnership of a dozen years through 118 committee meetings, 144 coffee connects, 400 Chamber ambassador visits, 481 scarecrows on the scarecrow tour, as well as 12 Nickle Dickle Days and a memorable 2012 Governor’s Fishing Opener that many in attendance said “put Waconia on the map.”
Other colleagues highlighted how Sites was always making connections to people, places and things. In her remarks Sites noted she was born the same year Nickle Dickle Day was established the Waconia Chamber of Commerce was forming. Also, how she and her husband Bill made an instant connection to the Waconia community not once but twice, as he was working for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“I love finding communities. It brings me joy. And we couldn’t have found a better community than Waconia,” said a tearful Sites. “I am so humbled to be honored by my peers and friends at this luncheon. We will always consider Waconia our home away from home.”
At the moment, the Sites’ plan to relocate to their home state of Washington, but expect to return for Minnesota winters, which they have come to embrace, as “reverse snowbirds,” Bill Sites coined it.
Finally, Sites noted ironically that she started working at the Chamber during a recession and is leaving in the middle of a pandemic.
Through it all she remained upbeat, persistent and resilient.
“Kellie is the eternal optimist,” said Chamber board member Dean Meyer. “The city of Waconia is what it is today because of her dedication, perseverance and passion.”
“Kellie is Waconia’s loudest and proudest voice,” said long-time Chamber ambassador Gary Fritz. “She’s so emotional because she is so passionate about this town.”