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Jennifer Piper, the new executive director for the Wallowa County Chamber of Commerce, is a local native who has returned to Enterprise for the position. She took over as executive director Monday, Dec. 7, 2020.

Enterprise native Jennifer Piper started this week as the new executive director of the Wallowa County Chamber of Commerce and is “excited to be back home,” she said in an interview Friday, Dec. 4.

“Now I’m back home in the best place in the world,” said Piper, who was born here and spent her childhood here.

Piper, who began Monday, Dec. 7, and replaces the now-retired Vicki Searles, is eager get to know local business owners and help them make it through the coronavirus pandemic that has plagued so many. Until Friday, she had been unaware of the more than a half-million dollars the Wallowa County Board of Commissioners is doling out in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funds, but she’s eager to jump right in and help local businesses apply to claim their share.

“That’s certainly something we can do in getting the word out, particularly this time of the year for businesses that rely a bit more on seasonality,” she said.

In fact, she has experience in such efforts. At her previous position, where she worked in resort property management in Lincoln City on the Oregon Coast, she helped local businesses deal with the shutdowns that occurred this spring during the first phases of the pandemic.

In addition to Lincoln City, Piper worked in the Portland area for about 10 years after receiving a degree in psychology from the University of Portland with a fine arts minor.

“I’ve always had a passion for the arts,” she said.

Piper does some painting, mostly in acrylics.

But I have an appreciation for many different media,” she said.

That appreciation runs in the family. Her dad, Paul Piper, owns Classic Marble Design in Joseph, where he’s worked with local bronze foundries to create the pedestals for many of the bronze statues in he area. Her mom, Gretchen Piper, gets creative with textiles in her business, Enterprise Sewing and Embroidery.

Prior to college, she attended secondary school at Upper Columbia Academy near Spangle, Washington, west of Spokane, except for one year at Joseph High School.

Now, she’s married to Damian Huff, who has been a high school and college math teacher and hopes to find a position in the area doing that when he joins her here in February. In the meantime, Jennifer said, he’ll substitute and continue with his online math tutoring business.

She said she and Huff are avid outdoors people, enjoying the activities the area has to offer, such as hiking, backpacking, snowshoeing, snow skiing and summer activities on the water. She said that although she hasn’t done much fishing or hunting since childhood, those activities are definitely on the list of things she and Huff plan to do.

For now, the couple has no children.

“It’s just the two of us right now — and one cat,” she said.

As for the chamber’s future, Piper is just getting her feet wet here.

“I’m just getting familiar with the process. It’s a little bit different than anything I’ve done professionally before,” she said. “But being from here and growing up here and loving this community so much I am so excited to have an integral role in promoting the businesses of Wallowa County.”

Piper has one characteristic critical for a chamber executive director: optimism. She is convinced local businesses and their owners can get through the pandemic.

“One thing I’ve always known about the people in Wallowa County is they’re pretty gritty — a tough people,” she said. “Anyone who’s a full-time resident here is gritty. They’re tough and have a lot of ‘stick-to-itiveness’ and I think that’s key to getting through an unusual and challenging time. I think that businesses being flexible and adaptable and open to learning to do things different than they have before is going to make all the difference in how they make it out the other side.”

A lot of it comes back to her eagerness to be home.

“Again, I am so excited to be here, I’ll reiterate that, to be here in my home community, a place that I love and is so near and dear to my heart,” Piper said. “I’m excited to meet all the various business owners and members of the community.”

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Bill Bradshaw is a reporter for the Wallowa County Chieftain. Have a business tip? Contact him at 541-398-5503 or bbradshaw@wallowa.com.

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