The Van Wert County Courthouse

Tuesday, Jul. 23, 2024

1st-ever CVB director retires after 15 years

DAVE MOSIER/independent editor

A number of people were on hand Thursday to say farewell to retiring Van Wert Area Convention & Visitors Bureau Executive Director Larry Lee during a reception held in his honor at the CVB digs in downtown Van Wert. 

Retiring Van Wert Area Convention & Visitors Bureau Executive Director Larry Lee smiles during a reception honoring him on Thursday afternoon. Dave Mosier/Van Wert independent

Among those were current and former CVB board members, as well as several people who now or once inhabited the office just down the corridor from his as Main Street Van Wert directors. Those included Seth Baker, Adam Ries, and current MSVW Director Mitch Price.

Lee, the only director the CVB has ever known, made the decision to finally retire after spending the past 15 years in that position.

It was 2006 when Lee, who had recently retired after 35 years as a social studies teacher in the Coldwater Exempted Village School District, was looking for a new challenge — hopefully one in Van Wert: the community he had lived in, and loved, his entire life.

It was coincidence — or perhaps fate — that Lee happened to talk to a church acquaintance, Louis Ehmer, the late Van Wert mayor and City Council member who headed the volunteer CVB board at that time — just when that organization was looking to hire its first executive director. 

“Louis said: ‘I think I know what you’d be good at,’” Lee said of that conversation.

Lee liked the position, when it was presented to him, and the board made the decision to hire him over several other candidates. And, Lee says, “I’ve been enjoying it ever since.”

To the CVB board who hired him, Lee probably seemed like the perfect person to fill that position because of his obvious love for Van Wert, the only community he has ever lived in.

“I’ve lived my whole life here and Van Wert is very important to me,” he said.

Because Lee was the first person to fill the role of CVB director, he literally had to create the new position from scratch, so to speak.

“When they hired me they said ‘you do what you want to do; you create the job as you see it,’” he said, “and that’s what I tried to do.” 

While a number of changes have been made over the years, as needed, Lee said his basic goal has been to provide the kind of services he felt a Convention & Visitors Bureau should offer to visitors wanting to know what is happening in the community and surrounding area, as well as information to community residents that want to know what to do somewhere else. 

One of things Lee said he enjoys most about the job is the chance to see his hometown through the eyes of visitors to the community.

“What I enjoy most is meeting out-of-town people who are here for the first time,” Lee noted. “You get good conversations with those people.”

You also get some oddities as well, he admitted. One of those oddities occasionally comes from conversations with visitors who are taking photographs in the downtown area and think the county’s historic courthouse is a church.

“It’s always amazing to me is when people come and they’re taking pictures of the courthouse and they think it is a cathedral,” Lee said with a laugh.

The last year of his tenure was a particularly stressful one for Lee, he said, largely because of the COVID-19 pandemic — not only because most of the normal tourist events and activities had to be canceled, but because he and his wife both came down with the coronavirus itself; thankfully, though, both had relatively mild versions of the virus. 

Lee said he doesn’t know what’s in store for the organization he has headed the past 15 years, although he feels the CVB board will be looking to make some changes to the program to reflect new community needs and realities.

Lee, himself, is now looking at the first real move of his life, as he and his wife, Ann, prepare to move to New Jersey to be closer to their daughter and granddaughter. He won’t have long to contemplate it though, with movers “literally on my doorstep” at the same time well-wishers were congratulating him on his retirement Thursday.

That doesn’t mean he won’t return, though, to the community he has called home the past 74 years.

“We will definitely be back to visit,” he said.

POSTED: 05/27/21 at 11:31 pm. FILED UNDER: News