Urbanski retiring after 44 years with Altus Chamber

Jason Angus

June 21, 2014

After a 44 year run with the Altus Chamber of Commerce, Chamber President Holley Urbanski officially announced her upcoming retirement last week. Urbanski said that she plans to assist the new Chamber CEO, Brian Bush, as he moves into the lead role for business and economic growth in Altus, until the end of July, before she retires.

Starting in July 1971, Holley Urbanski began working for the Chamber of Commerce as the Office Manager under past Vice President Bob Ottman, she said in an interview.

“Bob Ottman told me that if I would come and work at the Chamber to help him get things organized, I could have my summers free. I haven't had a summer off yet,” Urbanski said jokingly. “He really was serious, but there was just too much work to do. There is just something all the time.”

Then Ottman retired in 1984, and after an extensive interview process with several applicants, Urbanski was hired as the Chamber of Commerce President in the fall that same year.

Having worked with 44 different Chairmen and many volunteers, Urbanski said that the Chamber of Commerce has instilled in her a sense of community service. She has welcomed new local businesses, teamed up with various committees, and coordinated many activities with Altus Air Force Base. She has also met with elected officials on the county, city, state, and federal levels to improve commerce in Altus and Jackson County.

“We've always worked very closely with our elected officials,” Urbanski said. “We've worked on many projects with them and that's been really rewarding to begin to understand how it all works on different levels.”

One of those projects, Urbanski recalled, involved raising funds to purchase the land for the Altus Public Schools Junior College, and later getting it under the state's higher education department, now Western Oklahoma State College.

“It was very successful from an economic stand point,” Urbanski said. “So Altus now has common education, career technology, and higher education all right here.”

There are other projects, some rich in tradition, that Urbanski has been active in. The Jackson County Junior Livestock Show, now reaching 70 years, the Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors that welcome new businesses to the area, and the Committee of 100, which welcomes new airmen to Altus, to make them feel right at home. Over 30,000 people have attend the new-comer welcome receptions since the Committee of 100 was established the in 1980's.

Other projects include opening Tom Steed Reservoir, cloud seeding, turning the Shaffer Hotel into the Towers Apartment complex, establishing a vocational and technology center, hi-way widening projects, Clean Up Altus, and organizing various activities that are associated with Altus Air Force Base.

“Many of our programs were to keep Altus Air Force Base an active viable military installation,” Urbanski said. “In the early 70's and 80's there were discussions about closing Altus AFB and we survived two rounds of Base Realignment Closure Commissions.” Urbanski said that she was in Altus when Altus AFB became a training base, and saw the arrival of the C-5, KC-135, C-141, and the C-17.

“And of course now the KC-46A Pegasus,” Urbanski said.

“There are many, many, many different proud moments,” Urbanski said, recalling the moment that stood out most. She remembered sitting in the audience listening to the Secretary of the Air Force, Deborah Lee James, announce that the KC-46A Formal Training Unit (FTU) would be at AAFB. “I would say it was probably one of the best moments of my life. It was like that was the last goal and I was able to say that we accomplished it.”

The Chamber of Commerce and the (EDC) Altus Southwest Area Economic Development Corp., will continue to pursue more missions for AAFB.

“With the new mission coming to the base we feel very good,” Urbanski said. “We're not going to stand still.”

Under the new Altus Chamber of Commerce and EDC partnership, now lead by the new Chamber of Commerce CEO Brain Bush, they plan to develop a strong economic development program to bring new businesses and industry to the area, and to get ready for the KC-46A FTU mission and the expected 500 jobs it could bring.

“We'll begin a strong effort to entice other business and industry to locate in our community,” Urbanski said. “We may be in a slump now, but with this strong program coming on board, with the cooperation of the City of Altus, the county, the state, and the citizens of Altus, we'll be able to grow and bring in new jobs and more people.”

When Urbanski finally bids farewell, she said that she will begin a new chapter in her life and reside in Albuquerque, N.M., where some of her immediate family live.

“I'm sad about leaving but I'm excited about this new chapter,” Urbanski said. “I really don't want to leave all the good friends and people I've worked with over the years.” Urbanski plans to spend more time with her grandchildren, to traveling, volunteer, and enjoy hobbies and activities with her family. She may even go back to school.

“I just haven't decided,” she said. “I'm going to wait a while and let the dust settle and figure out what my next chapter is going to be. But I'm excited about it.”

Looking back on her time with the Chamber of Commerce, Urbanski divulged upon request a few words of wisdom: If everybody just works to get the job done on programs that benefit the community, and most importantly not worry about who gets the credit, we can accomplish anything.

“That's truly that way I try to work,” Urbanski said. “I try to give my volunteers credit. It takes the whole group working together as a team, and it really makes a difference from the community standpoint too.”

A retirement reception for Urbanski will be held July 22, from 4 - 6 p.m. at the Museum of the Western Prairie, open for everyone to attend.