Its members are in the business of promoting business, and nine decades into the Independence Chamber of Commerce’s history, the organization has made significant strides throughout the city in cooperation with public and private partnerships. 

Its members are in the business of promoting business, and nine decades into the Independence Chamber of Commerce’s history, the organization has made significant strides throughout the city in cooperation with public and private partnerships.  

On Sept. 30, 1920, the first bylaws of the Independence Chamber of Commerce were signed. The Examiner, along with Randy Becker, creative director and partner with Black & Becker Productions and an Independence Chamber member for 17 years; past chamber chairwoman Roberta “Poo” Coker; current chairwoman Patty Schumacher; and Chamber President Rick Hemmingsen, compiled the Top 10 events and accomplishments in the chamber’s 90-year history. (The chamber hired Becker as a consultant to develop retrospective materials for the 90th anniversary. Becker and Schumacher reviewed decades of chamber board minutes.)

They all wanted to make one message clear: Chamber leaders couldn’t have done it by themselves. “From the ’20s forward, it’s totally been a partnership,” Schumacher said. “Today, I feel like we are very good partners with the city and the school district, and we support each other’s issues.”

10 The beginning.

Early chamber board of directors’ minutes read of campaigns in improving the city’s roads, highways, bridges, parks and utility services. During his State of the City address before the chamber in February, Mayor Don Reimal said it best: “People change. Issues stay the same.” Schumacher credited William Southern Jr., the chamber’s first chairman, and The Examiner for their involvement in launching the chamber.

9 Adult – and youth – L.E.A.D. and CHOICES programs.

Nearly 25 years ago, the chamber started its Leadership, Education, Action, Development program as “today’s commitment to tomorrow’s Independence.” In the mid-1990s, Youth L.E.A.D. started for high school juniors in the Independence-area public and private schools. “It’s a super civics program for Independence because they get to answer their own questions,” Hemmingsen said. “That’s the beauty of the L.E.A.D. program. It creates a network of like-minded people that know each other on a different level than their businesses.”  

Ten years ago, the chamber also started CHOICES, a seminar that involves chamber volunteers in helping middle school students take initiative in their life choices.

8 A presence on the Square.

 In the 1960s, the chamber relocated its offices on 213 S. Main St. and constructed a new $180,000 office building. That support of the Square continued in the mid-1990s when the chamber built a $1.3 million Free Enterprise Center at 210 W. Truman Road that houses its current offices.

7 Santa-Cali-Gon Days.

Earlier this month, the chamber completed its 38th annual Santa-Cali-Gon Days festival, attracting a record number of an estimated 250,000 people. In this month’s edition of National Geographic Traveler magazine, Santa-Cali-Gon Days is named one of the Traveler20 travel-worthy events in the world for September. The chamber – its staff and volunteers – works year-round to make the four-day festival what it is today.

6 Raising $125,000 in private funds.

 During the 1930s, the chamber of commerce raised $125,000 in private funds for the then-RLDS Sanitarium, the only local hospital at that time. According to an online inflation calculator ( that amount in 1930 is equivalent to $1,590,990 in 2009 U.S. dollars.

5 Harry S. Truman.

During the 1940s and 1950s, the chamber supported Truman during his presidency years and named him the chamber’s first lifetime member in 1945. The chamber served as a tourism center during the 1950s prior to the city of Independence establishing its own tourism department and helped in preparations for the Truman Library & Museum on U.S. 24. The chamber still works in cooperation with the city’s tourism department, Hemmingsen said, even in actions as simple as making city maps readily available for visitors.

4 Western Independence school annexation.

Perhaps the chamber’s vision statement best summarizes the efforts of annexing seven western Independence schools from the Kansas City School District: “We are working in concert, each pulling our own weight, in the same direction.” School officials, government leaders, nonprofit organizations and, of course, the voters collaborated for this effort where – once again – the chamber proved its role as a community forum.

3 Endorsing bond and tax issues.

 Since 1991, the chamber has supported 37 public issues affecting the city of Independence, the Independence and Fort Osage school districts and Jackson County, while remaining neutral on one proposed sales tax increase. Voters have approved 31 of those issues, ranging from parks, fire and police sales taxes to school bond issues.

“We provide the forum for this community for the improvement of the quality of life,” Schumacher said. “That’s what it’s all about, whether it’s work, play, live – that’s what we’re doing.”

2 Infrastructure.

Roadways, streets, parks and stormwater – they all go back to improving the quality of life, Schumacher said. “To me, infrastructure gives you that opportunity to access all of those quality-of-life issues,” she said. During the 1990s, the decades-in-the-making Little Blue Parkway entered a new phase as the Selsa Road interchange opened at Interstate 70. The final component of Little Blue Parkway is slated for completion in 2011. The chamber also is developing its plans for a long-term festival park at the city’s old Agco Corporation plant.  

As different groups work to develop the undeveloped land in the Little Blue Valley and elsewhere, it goes back to the chamber of commerce providing a roundtable for their ideas and dreams, officials say.

1 The future.

In 2011, the chamber will revisit its list of community priorities that was previously adopted in 2006. Public and private organizations; chamber and non-chamber members; elected and non-elected officials are invited to share their thoughts on what Independence’s priorities and goals should be for the next five to seven years. “The planning never stops,” said Hemmingsen, calling for fresh ideas and new people to join the planning. “Dreams not shared are wasted. What are your dreams? We want to know.”