'I love this town': New chamber of commerce director hits the ground running

RANTOUL — Belynda Allen can almost feel her sister, Winona Booth, nodding her approval and urging her on in Allen’s newest job.

Booth and Allen were the sisters in the former Sisters retail store in downtown Rantoul. Now Allen is the new Rantoul Area Chamber of Commerce executive director.

It’s partly because of the former store, which they operated for six years, that Allen, a Villa Grove resident, feels such a strong attachment to Rantoul. Allen has also lived in Rantoul twice.

The new chamber official said her sister, who passed away in 2013, “would be so happy with” her taking the chamber job. “She loved this town, and if she knew I was here and helping to grow this town, she would love it.”

Allen is in the process of learning on the job after former Executive Director Kellie Wahl left the post to become a school teacher-coach at J.W. Eater Junior High School. Wahl served in the role since October 2014.

Viviana Jimenez was originally named to replace Wahl but changed her mind and decided to seek other employment opportunities in the area.

The 51-year-old Allen said she is excited about her new position.

“I love this town,” she said. “Maybe I don’t live here or wasn’t born here, but this town is very important to me and the people in it and the businesses.”

Allen owns and operates Fancy Thrift & Resale Emporium and Tea Room in Villa Grove, which she said is doing well. She called it her “main source of livelihood for almost three years.”

She wanted, though, to “get back out into the world and reach farther than Villa Grove.”

A native of upstate New York, Allen moved with her family to Champaign at age 13 and to Villa Grove in 1996, “but I’ve traveled extensively in the years since,” she said, joking that her New York accent still comes out at times, and she gets a lot of kidding about it.

She and her now-former husband had an over-the-road trucking business, and it was during that time that Allen earned a bachelor’s degree in general studies with an emphasis in communications, marketing and business. She earned the degree online from Eastern Illinois University.

Allen and the chamber of commerce board will determine what chamber-sponsored events will remain. One that won’t be returning is the annual fall festival, which was held downtown around the time of the annual police and fire departments open houses, which the chamber will continue to support.

The new chamber head said she enjoys getting out and meeting people and plans to visit the area communities that are also members of the Rantoul chamber, in addition to checking in with local businesses. She wants public input on what kind of activities people would like to see remain and ideas for new events.

Two other items on the to-do list are hiring an administrative assistant in the chamber office and recruiting more volunteers to help with chamber events.

Two of the more immediate upcoming chamber activities are the last movie in the park of the summer, “Moana,” which will be shown at dusk Friday, Aug. 11, at Wabash Park, and the chamber of commerce golf outing Sept. 15 at Brookhill Golf Course.

Allen has two children — a son, age 32, and a daughter, age 28, and a 6-year-old grandchild.

dhinton@rantoulpress.com

Categories (4):News, Miscellaneous, Living, Business

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