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By DAVE HINTON
Rantoul Press editor
Chris Kaler has resigned as executive director of the Rantoul Area Chamber of Commerce to re-enter a field in which he worked for 14 years.
Kaler will succeed Mike Boebinger as regional general manager for Frontier Communications, which provides telephone and high-speed Internet service to rural communities.
He will be responsible for a region that includes about 106 towns with about 90,000 access lines, extending from Chebanse east to the Indiana state line to Lincoln and south to near Springfield. He will be in charge of 32 employees.
Kaler, who had served as chamber director for nearly four years, said his last day on the job will be Friday.
He said he was happy with his job with the chamber, which was a part-time position.
“I wasn’t looking for anything,” Kaler said. “I was really happy with what I was doing. We have things like the community experience plan to work on (see story in this website) for the next year, and I’ll still be available to help, but I won’t be one of the driving forces behind it.”
Kaler said the job opportunity came up as he was speaking with a Frontier representative and asked if anyone had been selected to succeed Boebinger, who had served as Frontier marketing director for Illinois, Ohio and Minnesota. Kaler was asked if he would be interested in the post.
Kaler had been in the telephone business for nearly a decade and a half, first with Eastern Illinois Telephone Co. and then Mid Continent, Alltel and finally GTE.
GTE was purchased by Verizon, which later entered a working agreement with Frontier.
Kaler said his work in the telephone field started by installing phone equipment. He later was named supervisor of the installation group before moving to the sales side of the business. But he left the business because of family concerns, when GTE wanted to transfer him out of the area.
It will be a far different field than the one Kaler was in when he left it in 1993.
“The industry has changed tremendously,” Kaler said. “Most people have cell phones. There’s still a tremendous need for people to have a land line, because it’s so reliable.”
Kaler said he is excited about the challenge.
“There’s a lot of communities that have to be served. Internet will be extended to many communities that Frontier hasn’t provided it to before.”
Kaler said one thing that drew him to Frontier was the company’s philosophy.
“They have a very strong community engagement component,” he said. “I wish more businesses would take that approach of being involved with the community.”
As chamber director, Kaler has been actively involved in getting businesses — and residents — involved in Rantoul activities.
He said as a Rantoul resident he will remain involved in community activities.
Looking back at highlights of his stint helming the chamber of commerce, Kaler points to the advent of the Firecracker Classic, a Fourth of July event that is held at the Rantoul National Aviation Center that has steadily grown.
“We’ve created, what I think, is a nice event,” Kaler said. “We’ve seen our numbers go up over the last few years. Not just people in Rantoul but people all over Champaign County have come to this event. It’s a nice time for families.”
The Rockin’ the Runway 5K event, with the help of Tim Weitekamp, was also restored to be part the July 4 event.
Kaler also points with pride to engaging the community.
“I wanted the chamber more involved in the community as a whole,” Kaler said. “We’re trying to change people’s minds. There’s a lot of people who really love the community and would do anything to help. We just needed more of them ... to make sure that they look at Rantoul in a different way.
“There are lots of great businesses and job opportunities, and parks and recreation are great. We’ve been trying to get people to think more positively about their community.”
Other programs in which the chamber is involved is a Street Garden Program, legislative luncheons, Business After Hours and the Festival of Lights Christmas parade.
The Rantoul Area Chamber of Commerce Board issued a joint statement on Kaler’s decision to resign:
“Chris Kaler has been a wonderful asset to not only the Rantoul Area Chamber of Commerce, but also the Rantoul community. He has been instrumental in keeping a business focus through the changing environment of Rantoul businesses as well as a liaison with our community and various organizations.”
The statement said the board has been pleased with the direction that Kaler had set.
“We wish him the best on his new career path, and look forward to him being a continued supportive member of our community.”
The chamber board will begin scouting for qualified applicants to help fill the vacancy.
The statement said the ideal candidate would be “an individual that is familiar with the Rantoul community and the issues involved. We hope to recruit someone with the same positive attitude as Chris Kaler that can help continue and support our progress.”