Downtown Farmville Picks Talent, Energy

Published 4:16 pm Tuesday, September 18, 2012

FARMVILLE – Downtown Farmville is certain it has named the right person as executive director.

Person, in fact, is her last name.

Helen is her first.

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Putting them together will effectively address the fledgling Main Street program's needs, the organization believes.

“By the nature of my job at Longwood,” Downtown Farmville co-chair Chuck Ross told Town Council, “I have been involved in well over a hundred searches. I can tell you it's a delight when a search ends and a committee feels that it has struck gold. The committee vote and board vote to hire her were both unanimous.”

In mining through 51 applications, the search committee found itself working in that vein when it came to Person's credentials. There was no either-or. Just ore, the committee concluded.

“Although I'm normally somewhat reserved with praise,” Ross continued, describing Downtown Farmville's first-ever executive director, “I will tell you that Helen Person is extremely impressive. We advertised the position locally, regionally and nationally and Helen's name rose to the top of a strong field early on.”

Person, a native and, until last week, a resident of Georgia, decided Farmville's name was in the same position on her own list.

“I read the description of Farmville and I went online and took a look at the town,” Person told The Herald on Monday about her response to Downtown Farmville's advertisement for an executive director, “and just the whole composition of the town…just the focus that everybody has here really fit with what I wanted to do as a Main Street director…just the direction that everybody wants to go, and the whole community camaraderie that's pulling together for this. I'm really excited about it.”

Following an extended telephone interview with the search committee, Person and her husband came to Farmville for a two-day visit that confirmed her feelings for the community and its Main Street mission.

“It exceeded my expectations so I've just been tickled to death with the reception that I've received and just the excitement, there's just a general excitement. The colleges, the retailers downtown, from the community at large,” she said of that visit.

“Then when I got back to Georgia I talked to some people at our church who had lived in Farmville…and they just loved it….Everybody I've talked with, every place that I've been has just been so high on Farmville and that really just sold me on it,” she said. “I haven't heard anything bad.”

Downtown Farmville heard the same things about Person-all good.

In addition to a long track record in business and her current role as a historic preservation consultant, Ross told Town Council, she has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Georgia and continues to write a newspaper column.

Person earned a master's degree in historic preservation from the University of Georgia where her thesis topic was on the administration of Main Street programs, and certification in grant writing.

A perfect fit, Downtown Farmville decided.

“Her references describe her in uniformly glowing terms, such as 'impeccable character, excellent wordsmith, asset to the community, a person with a wealth of knowledge who finds solutions and will do an outstanding job for you,'” Ross told council members.

“Jeff Sadler with the Virginia Main Street office was very favorably impressed with her. She's already sent the board so many good ideas via email,” Ross added, “that we are wondering how we will keep up with her.”

Person undoubtedly has confidence in her own ability and the future of Farmville to make an interstate move.

Faith, too.

“Absolutely,” she said, “and as an aside from that my husband and I have been praying for several months for direction and that when the Good Lord found the job He wanted me to have-instead of me trying to put a round peg into a square hole-that He would just put it in my lap and say 'This is it. This is where I want you to be.' And it's Farmville. So, yes, it is quite a change because I am a native Georgian and certainly never expected to be moving to Virginia but we're thrilled and just feel this is where we're supposed to be.”

The feeling, for Downtown Farmville, is mutual.

“We are bringing to Farmville a very talented, energetic and engaged director who looks forward to working with all of you here,” Ross summed up to Town officials.

Downtown Farmville will set concrete three-month and six-month goals for Person and evaluate her progress at those times.

The organization's executive director is a people person and progress toward community goals will include the community's citizens and businesses.

“This is their community,” she said, “and they need to be able to have a voice in it…When they have ownership, then they're excited because it's theirs. So I believe that the Main Street program is so important.”

In announcing the hiring of Person, Ross was effusive in his praise of search committee members Emily Pilk, Kerry Mossler, Cindy Cave, Brad Watson and Downtown Farmville co-chair Jimmy Johnson.

“This search has involved a large number of hours since early June. These people are role models for how dedicated volunteers can play a part in making our town better for all,” Ross said.

Downtown Farmville's connection, made person to Person, is ready to give out a very busy signal on behalf of the Main Street program.

In fact, she's already dialed up.