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At Year’s End, Transitions

Chamber President Heegan Takes People Skill To Carolina

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to

When Barbara Ann Heegan left her first job, counseling families of 9/11 victims, one of her clients anonymously left a “Flag of Honor” with the names of all 2,996 victims on it for her at the front desk. She’s hung it on her office wall at every job since.

No job could be as tough as Barbara Ann Heegan’s first.

Right out of SUNY Oneonta with a B.Sc. in Child & Family Studies, she joined 9/11 Family Support Services in Elmont, L.I., where the Queens native had been raised, seeking to help 122 family members mourn the death of loved ones in the attack on the Twin Towers.

About the same time, her mother, Florence, died.

“While I was helping them, they were helping me get back on a positive track,” said the Otsego County Chamber of Commerce president, who on Dec. 7 told the Chamber board she has agreed to join the Greenwood (S.C.) Chamber of Commerce as president/CEO on Jan. 4.

“You can be empowered by grief,” said Heegan in an interview, after an eight-year tenure that, above all else, has been marked by a cheerful outlook and positive thinking – not to mention doubling the membership, energizing young professionals through Leadership Otsego, and hosting countywide “summits” on issues ranging from workforce development to energy.

Raised on Long Island, a mile from the Belmont Park race track – her father, James, was an OTB inspector: “I would get to see the horses, but not bet on them,” she said – she was introduced early to Central New York.

Her parents, Barbara Ann and older brother Douglas would spent vacations horseback riding and hiking at the Round Up Ranch Resort in Downsville, Delaware County. A family of Yankee fans – and Douglas a ballplayer – led to numerous trips to Cooperstown and the Hall of Fame in those early days.

That, in turn, led to SUNY Oneonta and, as the demand for grief counseling tailed off in her hometown, her first job Upstate as Bassett Hospital’s director of volunteers – 200 of them.

At the time, she would talk about her parents’ experience with assisted living communities downstate, and how such facilities were needed here. Gordon B. Roberts, the Oneonta insurance man, had a similar dream, and as the Plains at Parish Homestead became a reality, Heegan joined the effort as director of sales.

All the patio homes in that West Oneonta retirement community were sold within two years, and half the apartments were filled within a couple of months, Heegan reports.

“You need to go out there and talk to people in person,” the outgoing Roberts advised her, and she was soon talking to Rotary and Lions clubs and community groups around the county, a practice she continued after assuming the Chamber leadership on May 18, 2012, two months after state Sen. Jim Seward’s first “Seward Summit” on economic development at The Otesaga.

The Summit had introduced community leaders from Oneonta and Cooperstown to each other for the first time, and Heegan pushed that forward. Attendees were pleasantly shocked when, in January 2013, Cooperstown Mayor Jeff Katz joined Oneonta Mayor Dick Miller on the dais of the chamber’s annual State of the State breakfast.

Heegan’s first dramatic accomplishment, though, may have been putting the Chamber on a sound financial footing by following Gordie Roberts’ Dictum and doubling membership from 300 to 600 in a single year.

Always the height of fashion, Heegan said she particularly enjoyed the Chamber’s twice-annual galas, the NBT Distinguished Citizen Dinner & Celebration of Business at the Hunt Union or Foothills in the spring, and the Small Business Awards at The Otesaga in the fall.

They were also good fundraisers, with attendance hitting a 300-plus record when Oneonta attorney John Scarzafava received the Bettiol Award in 2014.

The Greenwood Chamber’s signature event is the six-week South Carolina Festival of Flowers, and Heegan expressed enthusiasm about digging into that. Smith said her arrival also comes as the Chamber board wants a review of the event, to ensure Greenwood is getting maximum benefit.

The community, home to two colleges, 1,000-job FujiFilm, and Greenword Lake, reminds her of Oneonta.

Heegan’s younger son, Scott, 15, is moving with her. Daughter Christina, 21, at Siena College, and Sean, 19, at SUNY Adirondack, will remain Upstate, along with Barbara Ann’s significant other, Bob Pondolfino, who plans to move to South Carolina in the next year.

But the couple will maintain their Arnold’s Lake home, so Barbara Ann Heegan will not be gone completely.


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