"Do you want Fort Morgan to be a back number?"
"Do you want Fort Morgan to be left off the map of Colorado," a Fort Morgan Times article from May 31, 1919, asked. "If you don't, attend the meeting that has been called at the city hall for Monday evening at half-past seven o'clock to talk this over."
The meeting was called in response to a request from the Denver Tourist and Publicity Bureau calling for towns to organize a club that addresses community and business needs. It was agreed that a permanent Commerce Club be formed to meet those needs.
The Fort Morgan Commerce Club, which would shortly change its name to the Fort Morgan Chamber of Commerce, has continued this mission for 100 years.
"The destiny of Fort Morgan depends on how we, the citizens of today, create opportunities for tomorrow"
-Irven L. Billiard
Mayor of Fort Morgan 1984
In June of 1919, an organizing plan for the Commerce Club was drafted, and the Chamber was officially formed.
Under advice from a commercial development expert, the Chamber was made up of 15 members, held bi-monthly public meetings, and oversaw 14 committees, including finance, agriculture, tourism, and more.
The founding president, U.J. Warren, spent five years as president of the organization until one of Fort Morgan's founders, W.H. Clatworthy, assumed the mantle in 1925.
The early goals of the Commerce Club were to secure a Burlington Train Station, create a 75-room hotel, organize public events, and promote agriculture and industrial enterprises in and around Fort Morgan.
Ten years later, the Chamber of Commerce had achieved much of what it sought to do. An advertisement from January 19, 1929, lists out the Chamber's accomplishments, including paving the business district, securing a train station, the purchase, and donation of the State Armory Building, the creation of a cheese factory (note: this wasn't the current Leprino Foods factory now located in Fort Morgan's Industrial Park), and maintaining valuable business communities in Fort Morgan and across the state.
"An effective Chamber of Commerce is possible only because it is generated and sustained by the time, talents, efforts, and finances of volunteer civic workers."
-H. L. Boehm
Chamber President 1963
Throughout the decades, the Chamber continued supporting the community in various ways. In an article in the Fort Morgan Times on December 11, 1934, a summary of the Chamber's work is given:
- Answering citizens questions
Entertaining outside delegations
Attracting business opportunities
And the organization of public celebrations, like the town's 50th anniversary that year
That year the Chamber urged property owners downtown to "Clean up and paint up" in an attempt to beautify the shopping district.
In 1979, after 50 years of promoting Fort Morgan, the Chamber saw change approaching.
"Today, from a chamber run by part-time managers, temporary managers, and trainees, has finally emerged a totally productive and professional organization which, through its progressive stance, will come to be envied throughout Colorado," 1980 President Dick Sheldon wrote in the Fort Morgan Times on January 17, 1980.
The goals for the 1980s, as stated by the then outgoing President, Ron Edwards, were to "develop and improve communication with all forms of government, promote economic development, expand involvement with agriculture, and improve the Business Education Council including youth participation."
Through the '80s, '90s, and 2000s, the Chamber continued fostering business growth and organizing community events. During the next 50 years, the chamber would see much change, but never to their core mission.
Today, the Chamber describes its mission as similar to the founding principles laid out in the town hall that proposed a Commerce Club in 1929. Though industries change and businesses come and go, for 100 years, the Chamber has attempted to bring their and the community's interests into reality.
Special thanks to Jack Harvel at The Fort Morgan Times
for contributing to this informational piece.