HOPE — An experienced tourism professional will serve as operations director of the first satellite branch of the Columbus Area Visitors Center.
Diane Jekel was named to oversee tourism efforts from the Hope satellite office by Visitors Center executive director Lynn Lucas and Heritage of Hope Inc. Chief Executive Officer Michael Dean.
Jekel had been director of the Hope Area Welcome Center, which was operated by the Hope Area Chamber of Commerce until the chamber’s tourism office closed last fall.
Heritage of Hope will receive up to $40,000 generated from the county innkeeper’s tax for the satellite operation. In exchange, the nonprofit organization will work with the Visitors Center on an 18-month pilot program to increase tourism and hotel/motel stays.
While no timetable has been set for an official opening, Dean said he anticipates it will take place soon.
“We’re trying to do it right and make it look classy,” Dean said. “There are still several finishing touches that must be done before the grand opening.”
The Visitors Center is waiting for Heritage of Hope to place signs on the former bank building on the northeast side of the Hope Town Square, Lucas said.
“Once that is done, it will be determined when we will have an official opening,” Lucas said.
The Visitors Center’s first tourism kiosk was installed in the office early last month.
Jekel said that the satellite office will operate as part of the Columbus Area Visitors Center to promote countywide tourism, and she will seek guidance from the Columbus-based staff in carrying out her new responsibilities.
Dean said the Hope branch will have its own personality, however.
“The center is going to be uniquely Hope,” Dean said.
The satellite operation will be housed in the same building as Heritage of Hope and several of its divisions.
A native of Michigan, Jekel earned her associate degree in marketing and management from Davenport University in Lansing, Michigan.
More recently, the 52-year-old former stockbroker attended the Ball State University Leadership Academy.
While living in Fishers, Indiana, Jekel worked with the Noblesville Main Street organization on various projects, such as children’s activities and the Mayor’s Ball.
After the chamber’s Welcome Center closed last fall after losing some of its prior funding, Heritage of Hope recognized that Jekel had valuable talents and abilities the community didn’t want to lose, Dean said.
Those skills became even more important after then-Heritage of Hope CEO Larry Simpson, who was spearheading efforts to open the satellite tourism office, died in September.
“We’re delighted the town was able to take advantage of her set of skills and pair it with the satellite office,” Dean said. “If things didn’t work out that way, I don’t know what we would have done.”
After living for three years south of Cleveland in Dover, Ohio, Jekel and her family moved to Hope in late 2012. She serves on the board of directors of the Hope Area Chamber of Commerce.
She also has been working to develop an economic development plan for the Flatrock-Hawcreek area with Jason Hester, Columbus Economic Development Board executive director.
In addition to being involved in recent town square beautification efforts, Jekel is putting together a centralized location to handle volunteer opportunities in the northeast Bartholomew County community.
By securing Jekel’s services as a contract employee, rather than creating a full-time position for her, she will be able to continue with most of her current obligations, Dean said.
What: Hope branch of the Columbus Area Visitors Center
Address: 645 Harrison St., Hope, IN 47246
Family: Tom, husband; five adult children; expecting a 13th grandchild in May.
Residence: Lives in Hope and is originally from Lake Odessa, Michigan.
Education: Associate degree in marketing and management from Davenport University, Lansing, Michigan.
Community activities: Serves on the board of directors for Hope Area Chamber of Commerce; working on the Main Street organization, organizing Farmers Market of Hope.