NEW ULM - For 40 years, Chuck Kiecker has been saying hello, and welcome to new businesses and groups as part of the New Ulm Chamber of Commerce "Wilkommen" Committee.
Thursday the Chamber and the Wilkommen Committee bade him a fond farewell. At age 86, with knee surgery on the way, Kiecker is hanging up his loden green jacket and retiring from the committee, after logging some 1,400 welcoming visits.
The Chamber had lured him in for the surprise reception by appealing to Kiecker's well-developed sense of commitment. He was called, and told that the committee had a visit scheduled, but couldn't get enough members together. Of course, Kiecker said he would be there.
Chuck Kiecker, flanked by Chamber President/CEO Audra Shaneman, and Chamber Board Chairman Eric Bode, was honored Thursday at the Chamber for his 40 years of service on the Chamber’s Wilkommen Committee. Kiecker, 86, is retiring from the group after making around 1,400 welcome calls to local businesses and corporations over the years.
Kiecker is one of the original founders of the committee. He recalled Thursday that sometime back in the 1970s, Hazel Meine, then president of the Chamber, had called three of the local bankers together for lunch at the Kaiserhoff - Don Gollnast, president of Citizens Bank, Gary Nelson and Kiecker, who was working for Farmer's & Merchants Bank, which later became Alliance Bank.
"She told us we needed to have a group like this, that other communities our size to honor businesses for their years in business, or recognize new businesses," Kiecker said.
They all agreed, the committee was formed, and since then Kiecker has been the constant as new generations of business people have joined the committee to welcome new businesses, cut ribbons at grand openings and business expansions, hand out commemorative dollars and plaques, and say, "We're glad you're here."
Kiecker has helped welcome or honor everyone big employers like 3M and Kraft, to small mom-and-pop businesses.
Why has he stayed so long?
"When I get involved in an organization, it becomes my priority," he said. "That's the way I am. I worked for the same bank for 48 years. I've worked at committees at church for years, but I've had to give that up."