By Kyle LoJacono
ZEPHYRHILLS — The search is over for the Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce executive director.
“We thought long and hard about all the potential applicants, and it came down to two very qualified people,” said Mike Mira, chamber president since October. “It was very close between the two, but in the end, Vonnie Mikkelsen had just what we were looking for.”
Mira said 44 people applied for the position, which was news to Mikkelsen.
“I had no idea that many people tried to get the position,” Mikkelsen said. “That makes me feel even more honored than before.
“When I applied for the position, I didn’t know where I stood, but I knew I was qualified and would be able to bring something to the chamber. I guess I just fit what the board was looking for in an executive director.”
Mikkelsen, 46, lives in Land O’ Lakes and spends much of her time volunteering at the Pasco County Animal Services’ animal shelter. For her work with the shelter, she received the Florida Veterinary Medical Association’s Citizen of the Year award in 2009. She also earned the PCAS’ Outstanding Volunteer and the Presidential Volunteer Service awards in 2008.
She has also spent time volunteering as a Guardian Ad Litem, which is a program in which volunteers make sure abused and neglected children adjust smoothly to state intervention. Some of the duties these volunteers have are to check in on the children regularly and help the kids during court appearances.
Mikkelsen was named the Pasco County Volunteer of the Month in August 2008 for her work with the Ad Litem program.
“Working as an Ad Litem volunteer is what I’m most proud of,” Mikkelsen said. “Helping these children in difficult situations does so much for them.”
Mikkelsen graduated from Willamette University in Salem, Ore., in 1985 with a double major in political science and international relations.
Mikkelsen has worked as a project coordinator and manager. She is fluent in Japanese.
“I was only going to spend about one year in Japan teaching English to students, but it turned into 16 years,” Mikkelsen said. “I worked with Time Warner and Turner Broadcasting in Tokyo developing programming for Cartoon Network Japan.”
The new executive director also earned a nonprofit management certificate from the University of South Florida in November.
“Her going to USF for nonprofit management is one of the things that tipped the scales toward Vonnie,” Mira said. “She also is a fresh face here in Zephyrhills. We’ve found that many of the same people here do all the fund-raising, charitable work and other up-front activities. We wanted someone new in the area to bring a fresh approach, and that is something Vonnie will offer the chamber and its members.”
Mira said the chamber is trying to create a new image for itself with its new director and a new Web site that will launch sometime in the next two months. He said this new approach was made to retain the chamber’s 400 members while attracting new ones from the 4,000 businesses in the Zephyrhills.
“I’m very confident in the leadership of the board of directors the chamber has, and the businesses of Zephyrhills should be too,” Mikkelsen said. “The leadership is very serious about what it wants to accomplish and has clear goals to do that. They are receptive to new ideas and in moving forward. I’m very excited about the future.”
Mikkelsen received the news of her new position in an unusual place.
“I was in the pet store getting dog food when I got the call around 1:30 (p.m.) from the chamber,” Mikkelsen said. “The food was for my Australian shepherd named Tucker and my shepherd mix named Sierra that my husband (Dennis) and I adopted from a shelter. I’d have to say I didn’t imagine that would be how I’d get the news, but it was still perfect.”