On January 18, 1954, a small group of business people got together at the Penn Daw Hotel on Richmond Highway. It didn't make the front page, but for those involved, it was an historic time. It was the beginning of the Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber of Commerce; an organization that has not only continued to exist, but has grown exponentially during the group's 50 years.
Last week, the chamber celebrated this momentous occasion with a special evening at Fort Belvoir Officers' Club. It was called, simply, "Our Golden Year." On hand were many special guests, including Delegate Kristen J. Amundson (D-44); Delegate Mark D. Sickles (D-43); Senator Linda "Toddy" Puller (D-36); Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland; Lee District Supervisor Dana Kaufmann; and U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.).
Several former chamber presidents were present, including Ernest S. Corso, who not only served as president in 1959 and 1964, but was also responsible for incorporating the chamber. Corso told the gathering that he was motivated to start a new chapter because when he graduated in 1938 from Trinity College, he tried to join the Alexandria chamber. They told him he was too young, and had to work his way up.
"I'm going to create [a new] one," he said, and set up the first meeting of the Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber.
Corso remembers how he threw a check for $15 [for dues] on the table at the first meeting, hoping that the other members would follow suit. It was a risky move, and he remembers thinking, "Either the money's going to fall on the table or I'm walking out of here."
Fortunately for him, the money started flowing.
"My game plan was to keep it [the charter] simple to understand," said Corso.
THAT INITIAL GROUP of nine members has grown to more than 400. Joan Gros, chairman of the chamber, said, "Everybody knows my goal is to reach 500 [members]."
Hyland and Kaufmann read a resolution that they had jointly sponsored; as did Amundson, Puller and Sickles.
Amundson said, "Fifty years is an incredible achievement; we realize how important the chamber is."
Sickles has been a member since 1993, and said, "Congratulation on [reaching] 50 years; you're a great service to the community."
Davis said that looking at the scrapbooks was like a "walk down memory lane."
"I appreciate the work done by the Mount Vernon-Lee bodies. What better setting to celebrate than on the shores of the Potomac?" said Davis.
Chamber President Dan Rinzel closed by saying, "We honor those who preceded us, and rededicate ourselves to the future."