After a lot of kidding around, Linda Fryer is leaving
Nancy Jo Tubbs

Linda Fryer would rather operate a fishing pole than tweet on a cell phone. So it was very fitting when she and the merry band of Ely Tourism Bureau members and Giraffe Marketing staff okayed the 2013 April Fools plan for Ely to ban social media. After all, the promo said, “The only thing online here is the fish.”

Linda is organizing her fishing tackle and retiring next week as executive director of the Ely Chamber of Commerce. This week she is busy welcoming and orienting her successor, Cherie Sonsalla, who is charged with, “promoting the needs and interests of Ely’s business community and tourism industry, supervision of office staff and fulfillment of Chamber projects.” Linda leaves behind a big job description to fill, but also giant shoulders to stand on.

Last year Linda was named a Friend of Tourism by the state’s Explore Minnesota organization after 25 years with the Chamber and after successfully shepherding Ely through a series of April pranks that brought national attention to this vacation destination. In past years, sitting ducks fell for Ely’s shenanigans about obsessive-compulsive fishing disorder, a bid for the summer Olympics, Dairy Queen getting naming rights for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and the best yarn of all—that Ely was being sold to Canada.

This year’s “Tweeting is for the birds” campaign charmed media attention from TV and radio stations, newspapers, blogs and websites numbering around 50. And while Linda is more tech-savvy than most, she’s been telling a story about herself that reinforces her somewhat oblivious attitude toward social media.

Just before the launch of the April 1 caper, she took a call from a Huffington Post writer wanting to know if Ely was feeling scampish this year. You may know—not that I did—that the international media powerhouse HuffPo website, which covers all the news that’s fit to post and blog, is worth about $315 million and won a Pulitzer Prize for national reporting in 2012. It’s big. Linda, as always, gave a very professional interview. Then the savvy Chamber director got off the phone and seriously asked one of the staff, so, where is Huffington, Minnesota?

When Linda began work at the Chamber some 25 years ago words like “tweet,” “web” and “network” had very different meanings. One of her main tasks was to staff an 800-number switchboard all day long, directing scores of calls to area resorts and businesses.

Not to mention age, you could say that Linda is well seasoned enough to deserve retirement. Columnist Will Durst once well described those of us shaking hands with maturity. He said, “We are not old. We are vintage. Classic. Enduring. Established. Persistent. Time-tested. Seasoned. Steadfast. Stable. Durable. Reputable. Reliable. Rare. Repositories of uber-experience. Acute ambulatory aggregates of accomplishment. And laughing in the face of it all…”

We know those strong characteristics of people who bind us as a community—and Linda is surely one of them.

I remember a time when, as a new employee, I was smarting from a critical editorial in a local newspaper about my organization.

Linda’s advice was level-headed and calming and ended with, “It was just your turn this week. Next week it will be someone else’s.” She is always ready to help us take a useful lesson from a tough situation, then move on.

“Linda is astute, charming, bright, funny, clever, happy, outgoing, smart and a realist,” said Alanna Dore, Listening Point Foundation executive director. “Linda can pull you in, make you feel important, give you excellent advice, and you leave with a plan and a smile on your face.”

“I’ve watched many times when Linda’s pulled someone’s leg,” says Lana Hietala, Chamber administrative assistant. “Linda is a great kidder. She keeps a straight face, and after 17 years I still don’t know when she’s serious. When little kids come in, she always shows them the deer head mounted on the wall in the Chamber and tells them the other part is around the corner in her office…so they go into her office and peek around the corner…no rear end…and they chuckle.”

Looking back over Linda’s career with the Ely Chamber, we’ve seen her work with staff and the Chamber, Merchant and Tourism boards with great success. They convinced potential visitors that “Ely is Not on Fire” so business could go on during the nearby Pagami Creek wildfire in 2011. In 2010, Ely was named “Coolest Small Town in America.” The Chamber generated the Tuesday Night Live summer music around town and Blueberry/Art and Harvest Moon festivals. The Chamber’s work goes on year-around with street decorations, website updates, visitor inquiries and drop-ins and board and committee meetings.

In her work with Chamber boards, Linda says she’s never made a decision, but I’ve seen her guide many wise ones.

“One of the things I’ve appreciated the most about Linda,” says Lodging Bureau president Kerry Davis, “is while she worked at the Chamber for 25 years, she never wanted to take credit for what got done there. She always said it was a group effort. But we knew better.”

We’re going to miss her, and that’s no kidding.

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