In 1993, Shelby County was just starting experience the phenomenal growth of the next two decades. In Columbiana, a group of business leaders met and started talking about the businesses how the could best be served. Richard Cook, Johnny Lowe, Bob Sauer and Kim Price of the Shelby County Reporter, met with First National Bank representatives Helen Phillips and Carol Smith formed a Steering Committee to explore the idea of forming a Chamber that would be focused on this area of Shelby County.
The South Shelby Chamber of Commerce was formally incorporated on October 20, 1993. Earlier that year, Columbiana businessman Johnny Lowe approached a newly retired school teacher, Bonnie Atchison about being the Executive Director. She accepted the position in December 1993. Atchison relayed that when she started, she was given two invoices and a checkbook. For the first seven years, the South Shelby Chamber was housed in Atchison’s residence in her sun room. “There were people in my house all the time, for meetings and socials, it was a wonderful time.” said Atchison.
When it came time to name this new Chamber, it was Lowe who suggested the name, South Shelby Chamber of Commerce. At the time, there was a North Shelby Chamber so Lowe pointed out, “we will be the South Shelby Chamber.”
Atchison reached out to then North Shelby Chamber of Commerce Director, Karen Ream. The Montevallo and Calera Chambers were also getting started at this time and the directors would all meet and share ideas. They attended state meetings as a whole and represented the entire county. According to Atchison, they shared ideas and worked very well together.
The Chamber grew and evolved for the next seven years. In, in 2000, Columbiana resident and Community Leader Jeanette Niven asked Bonnie to lunch and expressed her wishes to leave her residence to the City of Columbiana so that civic clubs and the Chamber could have meeting space and an office, respectively.
Six weeks after Ms. Niven passed away, Bonnie set to work to make sure Ms. Niven’s last wishes were carried out. She approached the Columbiana City Council and at the same time, then South Shelby Chamber Board member, Richard Cook was able to secure a grant from the Alabama Power Company Foundation for the initial preparations of the house. For the past 14 years, the Novella, Vignette and Culture Clubs have regularly met at the Jeanette Niven House and an office for the Chamber.
Bonnie served as Executive Director for 10 years and then retired. She was honored with a key to the City of Columbiana during a 10th Anniversary Open House. The Chamber hired local business owner Stacy Walkup as Executive Director. She came on a few months before Bonnie retired. She served in this role until late 2012.
We are immensely grateful to the foundation that Bonnie built and the tremendous growth that Stacy saw under her tenure.
This area of Shelby County is on the cusp of some tremendous development and the South Shelby Chamber of Commerce is excited about what lies ahead.