SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE, Virginia – Vicki Gardner, who has steered the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce since 2002, announced today she will step down as Executive Director at the end of August.
“For nearly 17 years, my personal and professional lives have been meaningfully enriched,” Gardner said. “The Smith Mountain Lake community, region, businesses, leaders and residents have become part of my extended family.”
Gardner said through the years, she experienced a great sense of accomplishment in executing the chamber’s mission to promote tourism and grow business in the SML region.
“To do this, I flew on the wings of our boards of directors, exceptional staff, members, sponsors, a virtual ‘army’ of volunteers and my incredible husband, Tim, to move our organization from nearly closing its doors in 2002 to the thriving chamber we have today. To be truthful, I only intended to ‘help out’ for about six months, with a goal of getting the ‘train back on its tracks’ before moving on to a ‘real’ job.”
Instead, Gardner helped grow the organization from 187 members to more than 750, raised the region’s profile through countless marketing initiatives, developed member networking and educational opportunities, spearheaded a remodeling and expansion of the state-certified Visitor Center at Bridgewater Plaza, lobbied for the best interests of SML to Virginia legislators and represented the chamber on various local, regional and state committees.
“Vicki’s accomplishments are truly too long to list,” said Lindsey Coley, Chair of the SMLRCC Board of Directors. “Her energy, enthusiasm and love for the people, businesses and organizations that make up the Smith Mountain Lake community is boundless. Hers will be big shoes to fill, for sure.”
Gardner is a graduate of the U.S Chamber’s Institute for Organizational Management, a four-year program for leaders of chambers and other non-profits. She served as president of the Virginia Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives and on the Virginia Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. Awards earned over the years include the Virginia’s Blue Ridge 2016 Tourism Ambassador Award, Virginia Chamber’s Resilience Award, Grand Lodge Mason’s Community Builders Award and Virginia Institute’s Economic Development Award.
Gardner said many of her proudest accomplishments center around finding ways to extend the season for Smith Mountain Lake, thereby assisting businesses who rely on tourism year-round.
Under Gardner’s direction, the Smith Mountain Lake Wine Festival has grown into the region’s premier annual event, attracting more than 11,000 people to the lake each September. She also initiated the development of several other yearly events, including the Smith Mountain Lake Business Expo, Smith Mountain Lake Fall Chili and Craft Festival, and Smith Mountain Lake Pirate Days.
“The Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce has bestowed upon me boundless joy, a diverse education, challenges, friendships, and that jump-out-of-bed enthusiasm while planning every day,” she said.
Gardner, a native of the Finger Lakes region of New York, moved to Smith Mountain Lake with husband Tim and their two young daughters in 1986. Now the grandmother of six, she said she’s looking forward to having more time to spend with family and for hobbies such as painting, fishing and relaxing on the dock. She said she also plans to assist her husband with his lake-based home inspection business.
“But don’t think I’m going to completely disappear,” Gardner stressed. “I plan to remain involved with the chamber, in government affairs and various community projects such as the proposed Smith Mountain Lake Center and passenger rail stop in Bedford.”
Coley said a search for Gardner’s replacement will begin immediately.
Gardner said, “I’m confident that the SMLRCC board will appoint a new leader with the energy, dedication, and leadership skills to take our chamber to a greater level of community service.”