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St. John Valley Chamber director resigns

MADAWASKA, Maine — When Sharon Boucher moved back to her hometown two years ago and took a job as the director of the St. John Valley Chamber of Commerce, she thought she’d keep the job until she died.

Boucher loves the chamber and she loves Madawaska, but on Oct. 8, she will officially resign her position to take care of her elderly mother full time.

Although she plans to continue answering emails and phone calls while the board of directors searches for her replacement, board leadership said Boucher’s reputation for professionalism and community service already leaves big shoes to fill. 

For Boucher, who worked at the chamber in Madawaska earlier in her career and spent a decade at the Bangor Chamber of Commerce, leaving is incredibly difficult, especially because the circumstances are beyond her control. A people-person who feels “there’s nothing better than a good brainstorming session,” Boucher has always been drawn to chamber work.

“There’s no time to get bored and you have to constantly come up with new concepts and new ideas — reinvent yourself and innovate so you’re always thinking ahead,” Boucher said. “It’s just the excitement of it all.” 

Boucher has had a less than traditional tenure at the St. John Valley Chamber, as the majority of her two years were spent grappling with the effects of COVID-19 on the community. There are certain annual chamber traditions she never had a chance to participate in at all — like the Top O’ Maine trade show, which in a normal year, draws thousands of visitors to the region. 

The pandemic also prevented the chamber from doing most of its regular fundraising initiatives, leaving it to rely on the support of businesses in the area already struggling with the effects of COVID-19. 

All that being said, president of the chamber’s board of directors Gail Beaupre said that Boucher’s experience in the field helped modernize the St. John Valley Chamber — most of their bylaws were out of date — and Boucher also spent a good deal of time working to bring the chamber’s records and paperwork online.

“Being in a small community, we all know each other and we tend to take things for granted,” Beaupre said. “It really is because [Boucher] had that knowledge from working in Bangor Chamber that opened our eyes.” 

Boucher isn’t only stepping back from the chamber. In the two years she’s been back in Madawaska, she’s also been a part of numerous other regional and town organizations, especially with the Acadian Festival Committee and the Beautification Committee, which she helped found. 

Those are commitments she’s going to have to leave behind for now too, in order to give her mother the full-time care she needs. 

But in the future, Boucher dreams of working with the senior center to build up the elder services in town. Already, she spends time at the chamber helping to fill the gaps in care — Boucher has been filling out ArriveCAN paperwork for elderly people in Madawaska looking to cross the border into New Brunswick.

One day, she wants to get a van to help transport seniors to medical appointments and start a community garden just for Madawaska’s elderly residents.

“We’re an older community,” Boucher said. “There is nursing care but there’s not enough, so they’re in their homes, they’re in apartments, their kids are all gone. They’re older so they’ve lost most of their siblings. Where do they go?”

The next person to take on the chamber of commerce directorship should be tech-savvy and able to carry on the work of bringing the chamber and its practices up to date, Boucher and Beaupre agreed. From updating the chamber website to using social media to promote events and connect businesses, Beaupre said there were a lot of opportunities for growth in that area if someone with the skills to realize them came into the position. 

On top of that, Boucher said the next director will need the mental toughness to handle the intense, small-town politics of Madawaska. Beaupre said local knowledge, people skills and self discipline will be key as well. 

The position is now open, and the board of directors is accepting applicants online and on social media.

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