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Mystic - Tricia Cunningham, president of the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce, announced Thursday that she is stepping down to take a position as director of development and community relations at Groton's Fairview-Odd Fellows Home of Connecticut.
Cunningham, who brought a boundless energy to the chamber during some difficult financial times, said her last day at the helm will be Feb. 21.
"This position has afforded me many great opportunities to work with each of you over the years and I will cherish those memories," she said in a note to members.
Cunningham said she is leaving the 750-member chamber in good hands.
"We have a strong and passionate staff and a highly committed board of directors," she said. "I have no doubt this transition will go smoothly and all will be done in the best interest of the chamber and its membership."
Cunningham became head of the Mystic chamber in 2006 after its former executive director, Linnea Lindstrom, resigned in 2005. She has been with the chamber for a dozen years.
"It's a morning, noon and night kind of job," Cunningham said in a phone interview. "It's something that just has to be a part of you."
Jim Bates, incoming president of the chamber board and head of the search committee to replace Cunningham, said the organization expects to put out an announcement in the next week or so advertising for a new leader.
"We wish we could have Trish forever," he said.
Lindstrom said Cunningham joined the chamber right after college, serving initially as manager of member relations. Cunningham maintained the tradition of the Taste of Mystic, she added, after the popular food event briefly left the village and relocated to New London.
"What makes Tricia so special is her passion and enthusiasm for every project she has taken on," Lindstrom said in a phone interview.
Among the new programs and events that Cunningham threw herself into as chamber president were Fusion, which combines wine, food, music and body art; the Groton Fall Festival, done in conjunction with the Groton Business Association, a chamber affiliate, and 40 Under Forty, a first-time program this January, done in conjuction with the Greater Westerly-Pawcatuck Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Norwich Chamber of Commerce that celebrates accomplishments by the region's young adults.
David Brown, current director of development at Fairview and a member of the chamber board, said he recruited Cunningham for her new position. Brown plans to retire in March, handing the reins to Cunningham.
"She will bring a lot of energy," Brown said. "Everyone loves Tricia Cunningham."
Fairview, run by the benevolent society Order of Odd Fellows, is in the midst of developing 23 villas near the nursing home and independent-living apartments it operates. The only nonprofit nursing home in the region, Fairview is also one of fewer than 50 such facilities nationwide to receive an overall 5-star designation for health inspection surveys, quality measures and staffing from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
The Mystic Chamber was incorporated in 1954 but dates to the 1860s, according to Lindstrom, at first existing as a completely voluntary organization. The chamber did not get its first professional director until the late 1970s or early 1980s, she added.
"Tricia has been at the helm and has managed to do an exemplary job in keeping a small chamber alive," Lindstrom said.
Business officials from throughout the region have praised Cunningham's ability to juggle all her responsibilities and deal with a variety of personalities and agendas.
"She's always been so good at dealing with those situations," Brown said. "She never gets ruffled."
While many smaller chambers around the country have been merging with larger organizations, the Mystic business group has managed to maintain its own identity, Lindstrom said.
"Mystic is a really special place," she added. "I think that people in the larger community around Mystic needs its own chamber."