Applause echoed in the Sheraton Suites ballroom as the Cuyahoga Falls Chamber of Commerce recently honored Kent native Laura Petrella on her 20th anniversary as the leader of the organization. The chamber and other community leaders presented Petrella, the chamber's CEO, with several awards in a surprise ceremony at the conclusion of the chamber's monthly lunch meeting.
"Twenty years ago, a young woman named Laura Petrella walked through the doors of the Cuyahoga Falls Chamber of Commerce and we cannot say how proud we are of the fact that she did that," said Keith Viers, Chamber president and branch manager at Ohio Savings Bank. "For the past two decades, Laura has been a dedicated member of the Cuyahoga Falls community, and as CEO, Laura has led our chamber with both professionalism and grace."
The unexpected departure from the meeting agenda moved the Chamber leader to tears.
"Wow, I am just honored to be here, and accept everything," said Petrella, who received a standing ovation from the luncheon crowd. "Thank you so very much. I owe it all to you guys."
Petrella received an award from the chamber's Board of Directors, as well as proclamations from Gov. John Kasich and State Rep. Kristina Daley Roegner. The proclamations were presented to Petrella by Kathy Romito, Community Outreach Coordinator for Summa Western Reserve Hospital. "We all know what an honor this is for Laura to receive this," said Romito. "She's done a wonderful job."
Jennifer Syx, deputy director of the Cuyahoga Falls Community Development Department, presented a proclamation from Cuyahoga Falls Mayor Don Walters. Cuyahoga Falls Police Lt. Perry Tabak presented a certificate of appreciation from the police department.
"She's polished and professional," added Syx. "And she knows how to grow membership, and she always does it with finesse, a smile and a positive attitude. To Laura, the entire city of Cuyahoga Falls is grateful for your commitment to growing business in our community and keeping it strong, vibrant and healthy."
"I feel that the business community in Cuyahoga Falls is top-notch," noted Tabak. "Through my career of 20 years in the Cuyahoga Falls Police Department, I've had nothing but good relationships with our businesses."
Before coming to the Cuyahoga Falls Chamber of Commerce, Petrella said she worked for a larger, corporate chamber. After returning home and taking a couple of weeks off, Petrella said she decided to "hit the street" and try to find a position with a local chamber.
Petrella, a Kent native, recalled that when she walked into the Cuyahoga Falls Chamber of Commerce office in 1994, "I knew that was going to be home."
"Our chamber is a much different chamber today," said Petrella. "Just the opportunities we as a chamber have been able to bring forward for the businesses and growth, it's been incredible."
Much has changed in the past 20 years: Petrella recalled that when she started at the chamber in the mid-1990s, the organization had "card files" on each business, rather than information on computers.
"With our chamber, I run it like a small business," said Petrella. "I take ownership of it. Every day has been incredible. I've never been bored. There is always something to do, something to create, somewhere to move forward."
She thanked her fellow chamber members and the chamber board.
"I love what I do, I love what our chamber is, and where we're going ."