The Brown County Chamber of Commerce is a not-for profit organization established in 1957 for the purpose of being a valuable resource to all business sectors by providing communication, education and collaborative services between businesses, visitors, residents and government. The Chamber Board consists of representatives from all types of Brown County businesses and organizations.
History of the Chamber
For most of this century Brown County, Indiana has been an attraction for tourists. Until after World War II most of attraction of the hills was represented to the public by the artists and photographer Frank Hohenberger. No organization existed in the county to answer any mail inquiries regarding our county or tourist accommodations. Fred King an employee of the Post Office at that time took the personal responsibility for answering inquiries addressed to the non-existing Brown County Chamber of Commerce. For lodging he could direct them to the State Park, the Singing Pines Motel (the site now occupied by Fifth Third Bank), the Northgate Motel (now the site of Parkview Church of Nazarene), the Pittman House (which Our Brown County stood on the site of the Christian Church parking lot), the Village Motel and the Orchard Hill Motel.
By the late 1950s the volume of inquiries had grown beyond Fred's capacity and patience and he urged several business people to consider starting a Chamber of Commerce to meet a need he could no longer serve. In a small community, new organizations start small. Fred King managed to get 11 interested businessmen and women to meet to consider establishing a Chamber of Commerce. Out of this meeting and other which followed, the Brown County Chamber of Commerce Inc. received its non-profit corporation status August 9, 1957, with cash on hand of $217.33. Leonard Welsh (insurance) was chosen President, Portia Sperry (Brown County Folks Shop) Vice President, Donald Coffey (insurance) Treasurer, Fred King (Post Office) Secretary. Other charter members included: Floyd Cox (Cox's Pharmacy), Jay Kilgore (Colonial Restaurant), Bill Gore (Orchard Hill Motel), Kenneth Reeve (Reeve Art Studio), Edgar Inman (Inman's Feed Store), Hank Swain (Brown County Builders) and Dick Speelmon (attorney).
By the end of the year the Chamber had managed to more than double its membership. Informal committee meetings were often held in the kitchen of the Colonial Room while Jay Kilgore kneaded bread dough for the next meal. While we met he would shout orders to his employees, somehow managing to keep his mind concentrated on both items at the same time. The Chamber's first big project was to prepare a brochure. A radio advertising project followed that sponsored the Sunday Noon News program by Gilbert Forbes, a prominent newscaster of that time for WFBM radio. Don Sheets Studio prepared a singing commercial which introduced the news program. Don't studio was on the first building on Whippoorwill Lane. The Chamber also had WXLW's mobile unit come on Sundays to broadcast live from their unit parked next to Miller's Pharmacy (now the Hob Nob Restaurant).
The Chamber also sponsored a Citizenship Award for a boy and girl from the High School senior class. Dr. Jim Brester was the first male recipient, Kathleen Ford was the first female recipient.
Today the Chamber is re-organizing addressing the current needs of the entire community. It is supported by membership dues and fund-raising enterprises. It has been 53 years since Fred quit sending hand-written replies to tourist inquiries that came addressed to a Chamber of Commerce that did not exist. Hank Swain and Kenneth Reeve are the remaining survivors of the original 11 charter members.
Submitted by Hank Swain
Update: The last two surviving charter members are no longer with us. Kenneth Reeve passed away in 2012 and Hank Swain in 2014.