Joyce Minard. (Photo by Lauren Thomas)

There are some retirements that are hard to bear. Such is the case with Joyce Minard, president of the New Paltz Regional Chamber of Commerce (NPRCC), who is slated to leave the position as soon as she helps her replacement, Michael A. Smith, transition into the job and then moves off to Florida. “When my husband received job offers in Florida, I knew I had to give the Chamber adequate time to prepare and search for a new leader,” she said. “But I’m not going anywhere soon. This is not a job that you can learn in a day: It takes time, experience, trust with the membership, and I will do whatever I can to help through the transition period.”

“I love this community with all my heart, and it has been my pleasure to give everything I have to make it a better place to live, work, play, worship and do business,” Minard said.

“Joyce has always loved what she does. Each member of the Chamber is like family to her, so it’s important to have a seamless transition in leadership,” said Chris Drouin, chair of the NPRCC Board of Directors, adding, “This is a very challenging time in the economic history of the region and the state, and strong leadership of the New Paltz Regional Chamber is critical.”

“We wear so many hats here,” Minard said. “We are the legislative voice for local businesses; we are a Better Business Bureau resource center; we are the gateway to the Hudson Valley for tourists, as Exit 18 allows tourists to visit so much of what the Hudson Valley has to offer; and we are an educational resource for our businesses, providing timely and educative seminars, newsletters to keep them up to date with what they need to know to continue to succeed.”

Even though she announced her pending retirement months ago, Minard cares about local business and has spent hundreds of hours researching and lobbying against specific health insurance requirements for small businesses that “would drastically impact them during an already-devastating economic time. How much can they do and give? Our local businesses are incredible, but when there’s a recession, they’re hit the worst. That’s why the Chamber always preaches to ‘Shop local, buy local, think local’: because those dollars spent come right back to you and keep our community economically viable and healthy and alive.”

“It’s hassle-free,” she adds, and “people even know your name. How special and rare!”

It’s a complicated job, and one that involves more than 650 members, plus news and magazine publications, monthly luncheons and speakers, the constant battle to ensure that local businesses are advocated for and that tourists are made aware of the jewels that the area has to offer, both boldly and hidden. Minard needs to get close to every business owner and prospective business owner, hear their problems, try to solve their problems, educate and direct them, as well as usher in and shepherd tourists.

“It’s not an easy job, but one I love,” she says. “I had no idea what I was getting into when Wendell Harp and Dominick Sfregola and others convinced me to take the helm 30 years ago. This is not a job you can learn in a day; it takes time to cultivate relationships, and my hope is that, with my ability to help the new director transition, that they will begin to cultivate that sense of trust.”

Easier said than done, as Minard was raised in the Valley and knows everyone on a first-name basis. She moved to the Hudson Valley at age three from Oyster Bay, Long Island. After graduating from Albany Business College, Minard returned to New Paltz and began a position at SUNY-New Paltz in the Media Services Department: a position that she held until the birth of her first son, William. At that time, she took a part-time job with the Ulster County Farm Bureau and, after six years as manager, began legislative and public tours and farm visits so that, when confronted with farm legislation, public officials would know better how to deal with farmers’ concerns.

In 1979, Minard joined the staff of the NPRCC as office manager, and developed educational programs, monthly events, a newsletter and a membership guide. In 1993, she moved on to Ulster County BOCES, where she developed a New York State Education Department-commended curriculum for labor unions. After leaving BOCES, she developed a Business Mentoring Program for Dutchess and Ulster counties, funded by a New York State Empire Development Agency grant. Finally, in 1998, Minard returned to the NPRCC as president and has held that position ever since. The modern Chamber represents over 600 members, employs a team of four, hosts scores of events each year, offers education programs, runs a busy visitors’ room and much more.

Because of the overwhelming response to Minard’s retirement and her contribution to the community, the Board of the NPRCC has launched a new scholarship in her name. “We have several educational scholarships annually for traditional and non-traditional students,” said Christine Crawfis of the Chamber. “But there were so many people that called us and asked us how they might honor Joyce when she announced her retirement that the Board decided to set up a scholarship in her name, which is so fitting and continues the legacy of learning, education and local advocacy that Joyce has brought to this Chamber.” The Foundation is currently seeking donations to the scholarship fund and hopes to award its first Joyce Minard Scholarship in June 2012.

Foundation scholarships provide opportunities for graduating high school seniors, students pursuing post-secondary degrees or accreditations and adult, non-traditional learners to accomplish their professional goals and promote a dynamic quality of life in the region. “The new Joyce Minard Scholarship joins the Foundation’s annual Educational Scholarships and Special Merit Awards, and will stand in tribute to Joyce’s tireless work to materially improve the quality of life in the Hudson Valley by providing our region’s businesspeople, key employees, job-seekers and students with opportunities to learn new skills and integrate into the local employment and entrepreneurial climate,” said Foundation chair Kathy Ferrusi of Hudson Valley Federal Credit Union.

Dr. Hadi Salavitabar, dean of the SUNY-New Paltz School of Business, said, “Joyce is one of the strongest advocates for the education of our students. Her unbelievable energy, untiring efforts and devotion of her talent and time have made a significant difference in the educational experiences and training of our students and residents.”

Ulster County executive Mike Hein concurs. “Joyce has always managed to forge connections between our talented young people and our area’s vibrant businesses. Her efforts have positively influenced not only the organizations of our region such as the Workforce Investment Board, but also countless numbers of Ulster County residents.”

Donations to the Joyce Minard Scholarship Fund or any Foundation Scholarship may be made online through NYCharities.org by searching Regional Chamber of Commerce Foundation at New Paltz and clicking “Donate Now.” Checks payable to the Regional Chamber of Commerce Foundation at New Paltz may also be sent to the Foundation office at 257 Main Street, New Paltz.

The Regional Chamber of Commerce Foundation at New Paltz aids and augments the NPRCC’s current slate of successful educational programs. The Foundation also envisions a comprehensive program of educational activities and scholarships, all geared toward educating and supporting the community. For more information about Foundation and Chamber programs and Visitors’ Center hours of operation, visit www.newpaltzchamber.org or call the Chamber at 255-0243. ++