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Ellen Spears: 2010’s Woman of the Year

December 31, 2010
By WAYNE SHEETS, Contributing Business Writer

Biographies make interesting reading while at the same time telling the story of the subject's accomplishments. One of the most interesting in our community is that of Ellen Spears. She has been a player on the world stage, the national stage and the local field of events and accomplishments.

For more than 14 years, Spears lived abroad as the wife of a military officer and diplomat. Roles she undertook during that time - often voluntary - afforded rewarding opportunities in public relations, management, program development, writing, editing and public speaking.

Spears served in Bratislava, Slovakia, as that nation's first American Embassy Community Liaison Officer. As the first CLO, she was responsible for organizing the embassy's office and establishing and coordinating a program to indoctrinate and integrate U.S. employees as they arrived in Bratislava. She planned and oversaw U.S.-Slovak events and cultural activities that fostered business relations between the two countries. She was the key American employee in coordination of the embassy's annual Fourth of July reception.

Other highlights of her role as CLO included participation in the organizing of visits to that historic country by then First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of Defense William Perry and numerous U.S. senators and congressmen. She also chaired an international committee that researched and interviewed Slovak groups in need of monetary assistance.

While living in Bamberg, Germany, she served as an officer in "American Women's Activities - Germany," a civic organization that encompassed all of then-West Germany. In Berlin, she received the "Den Leader of the Year Award for the Transatlantic Council of Boy Scouts."

While living in Compiegne, France, she was instrumental in helping establish the "Sister City Relationship" between that French city and Raleigh, North Carolina.

While preparing for life abroad and living in several foreign countries, Spears learned to speak French and Slovak. The languages were learned not for the shear pleasure of knowing how to speak a foreign language but were part of her preparation for service to her country as a civilian while abroad.

On the national scene, while living in Washington, D.C., she actively assisted her husband/diplomat with the myriad of duties and social obligations associated with his office.

The experience she gained in these many and varied endeavors prepared her for the challenges in community leadership roles she would assume when she returned to her beloved home state of West Virginia and adopted hometown of Elkins upon her husband's retirement from active military service. Her involvement in the community wasn't long in coming after her return to Elkins.

In November 2005, Spears assumed the duties of executive director of the Elkins-Randolph County Chamber of Commerce when it and the Randolph County Convention and Visitor's Bureau became separate entities in August. The task of creating a new organization is never an easy one considering the countless details involved, but Spears, falling back on her extensive organizational experiences, had the office operational in minimum time.

With the help of two experienced staff members, Spears saw the membership reach nearly 300. She resigned from the position in August 2009 to become a liaison officer for the city of Elkins with ON TRAC, a program geared toward qualification for the Main Street program and to have more time with her family.

The accomplishments with the local chamber of commerce did not go unnoticed. She was appointed by former West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin III and continues to serve as a member of the Educational Broadcasting Authority. The organization acts as a public benefit corporation on behalf of noncommercial educational radio, television and related media.

She is also serving as a member of the governor's 21st Jobs Cabinet with committee assignments on the Teacher Hiring Committee, Communications Committee and the Parent Education and Outreach Committee.

In the autumn of 2010, she secured the "Preserve America" designation for the city of Elkins. Spears is also a member of the Elkins Historic Landmarks Commission.

Another of her many distinguished accomplishments and assignments was serving as an aid to the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd.

Biographies, however, usually do not reveal the individual's motives and drives toward success and their love for what they do for their fellow man.

Many of Spears' engagements have been paid positions of course. She has never, however, considered them as 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. jobs. Sources that supplied information for this bio were quick to point out that every position she occupied in business and political circles was treated as a career rather than "just a job" that needed to be done. This was evidenced when she was executive director of the Elkins-Randolph County Chamber of Commerce and is no less evident in her enthusiasm for the ON TRAC program.

Spears is as devoutly dedicated to the success of the ON TRAC program as she was to that of the chamber of commerce. While her position with the chamber supplied a salary, she spent countless hours beyond the 40 hours upon which the salary was based. Her ON TRAC work is voluntary and has taken her as far as Chicago to attend conferences and seminars designed to prepare those involved to make the programs successful.

Her tenacious drive to succeed in all she does, her love of community and fellow man, ambition, dedication to seeing a job through, participation in community affairs and willingness to be a goodwill ambassador for her country, state and community all combine to make her an exceptional individual.

Spears was born in Torrington, Connecticut. Her father was a research hydrologist with the U.S. Forest Service serving on research projects in California, North Carolina and Alaska before being transferred to the U.S. Forestry Research Laboratory in Parsons as she was entering the eighth grade.

She attended Elkins Junior High and High schools until her senior year when her father received a scholarship to Harvard University and the family moved to Massachusetts. While there, she graduated from Athol High School. After spending a year in Massachusetts, they returned to Elkins and she left to continue her education at Queens College in Charlotte, North Carolina, from which she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in American studies.

Spears' accomplishments have not all been in the business and political arena. While attending Elkins High School, she was Miss Elkins when the beauty competition first started in the early 1970s. She was runner-up in the Miss Teen West Virginia pageant and the Miss West Virginia pageant. While in college, she reigned as Miss Charlotte/Mecklenburg County and was runner-up in the Miss North Carolina pageant. She was an honors student at Queens College, served as president of her freshman class, student government president and appointed to the Queens College Presidential Search Committee. These are just a few of her numerous awards and accomplishment while in college.

Spears' dedication and continuing devotion to making her world, state and community a better place for all mankind deserves recognition as being our community's "Woman of the Year" and a special thanks for all she does from everyone.


While my wife's name will never appear anywhere in this column except in something that's being written about an organization in which Sue is a member, she is nonetheless a great inspiration and source of subject material of which I write in hopes of entertaining or informing, or both, those that read this column.

While all may not be interested in what's written each week, I hope that everyone has found, over the course of the past year, some enjoyment and/or have been informed in some small way that enriched their life. May God grant each of you a happy and prosperous new year.



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