Chamber director Jeff Hettrick retires, honored by Ottawa friends

Family, friends, co-workers turn out to honor business advocate

Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jeff Hettrick chats about his retirement with former state Rep. Peg McDonnell Breslin and her husband John at Hettrick's reception Friday, Sept. 29, 2023, in Ottawa.

To describe Jeff Hettrick’s situation in terms favored by his favorite performer – the late, great Jimmy Buffet, – the executive director of the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry has found his “one particular harbor” in Ottawa.

However, “come Monday” he will have a lot more time for an occasional “cheeseburger in paradise” or two during his next “trip around the sun.”

In short, it’s time for him to “breathe in, breathe out, move on.”

Hettrick, who as head of the chamber for the past four years has seen businesses in Ottawa and surrounding communities through some pretty difficult times, and ultimately helped that body to grow, is stepping down at the end of the month.

He was honored Friday with a reception at the Illinois Valley Community College Ottawa Center, with hundreds of friends, co-workers, fans and well-wishers showing up to thank him for his efforts on behalf of the Illinois Valley.

I have to say, I’ve enjoyed my time with the chamber. It’s been an exciting four years.”

—  Jeff Hettrick, retiring Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce executive director

“It’s been great to see everyone,” said Hettrick, who plans to soon continue his local involvement on the United Way board. “I’m excited about retirement. My wife and I have wanted to be able to travel and do a few things, but we’ve been so busy with the chamber, we’re kind of worn out. We finally said it’s fall, things are slowing down a bit this time of year, this is a good time to step back.

“I have to say, I’ve enjoyed my time with the chamber. It’s been an exciting four years.”

Hettrick, a native of the state of Ohio, graduate of Kansas State University and more than 37-year mechanical engineer for ComEd, said he feels one of the greatest accomplishments during his tenure at the chamber was its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

By applying for and getting grants, implementing programs and finding money to keep local businesses going, the city was able to retain all but two businesses after the pandemic, he said.

“I know that when Jeff started, we immediately went into COVID and there were a number of challenges for the organization, but he’s done a great job with it,” said Ottawa Mayor Robb Hasty, who was just leaving the chamber board four years ago but before doing so cast a vote in favor of hiring Hettrick.

“Knowing Jeff, he’s going to be very dedicated to the community still. … One of the things that I think shows his integrity is that the city just received by email some chamber-related information, so on his last day, he’s still working on behalf of the chamber. I think that says loads about him, and I look forward to continuing to work with him, with the United Way and everything else.”

Hettrick said he takes pride in the cooperation the chamber has established with the surrounding communities.

“We’ve reached out to four other chambers and formed an alliance because what affects us here in Ottawa, also affects Streator, La Salle, Peru, Marseilles, Princeton and Mendota,” he said. “We’re acting together as the Illinois Valley, and expanding the scope of the chamber works out well for everyone.”

Former state Rep. Peg McDonnell Breslin, an Ottawa native who with her husband, John, were among those who offered their congratulations, cited Hettrick’s personable nature in inspiring others to take part.

“Jeff has done a great job,” Breslin said. “He’s really raised the level of participation and community events, and he’s pretty much a tireless worker. That, I think, spurs other people to pitch in. He’s been good to the city, and we will be lucky to get one his equal. … He’s been a big asset to the area.”

Hettrick said he hopes the chamber will continue to become more approachable and remain involved with younger citizens, as it’s doing through its work with the Ottawa Network of Young Executives.

For he and his wife, Lisa, the immediate future includes some well-deserved vacation time to northern Wisconsin, and then it’s on to United Way.

“The answer I’m supposed to give for what I’m doing next is to start on my wife’s to-do list,” Hettrick said with a chuckle. “I know I will miss the people. I enjoy talking with people and seeing what their businesses are. … Seeing how they operate has been very interesting to me. I like seeing the nuts and bolts of how businesses operate. That’s a part of me.”