Community & Public Service
The word “pioneer” usually describes not just those who were the first to attempt to complete a mission, but who also prepared the path for those who followed. That description fits Barbara Hancher perfectly. Not only was she among the first Huntington County businesswomen to exert influence beyond a family enterprise, but her accomplishments set new standards of achievement and professionalism for her successors.
Across America, Chambers of Commerce are valuable sources of knowledge and direction for existing or prospective businesses in communities they serve. The Huntington County Chamber of Commerce is no different, and to a great extent, today’s Chamber successes are built on the foundation set when Hancher was its leader for nearly two decades.
Barbara Hancher was born in Huntington, the daughter of businessman Harold Bailey and his wife, Pauline. She grew up here and graduated from Huntington High School, then earned an education degree at Butler University. Her first job was teaching first grade in Rockford, Ill., but she soon moved back to Huntington, where she substitute taught and was office manager for a local dentist while rearing her children and taking part in community activities.
The turning point came in 1981, when she was hired as executive secretary — and the sole employee — of the Huntington County Chamber of Commerce. Her talent for communication, sharpened in the classroom, alerted her that the Chamber needed to be more visible and proactive to effectively confront the challenges of Huntington’s changing business landscape.
She was instrumental in convincing the Chamber board to move the office from an upper floor of a downtown bank building into a storefront location. Though she was hired on a part-time basis, her job soon expanded to full-time. The Chamber brought in Alyce Zahn to take over the office management, which freed Hancher to assume a larger role shaping strategies and policies to raise the county’s profile in the business world.
Owing to changing markets or acquisitions, some locally owned industries that had long sustained Huntington’s economy were disappearing. Civic leaders saw the need to spur new industrial development and believed the city could do so by developing an industrial park adjacent to the Norfolk & Western Railroad, along the Little River on the city’s west side. In 1983, the Lime City Economic Development Corporation had been formed as a public/private, not-for-profit partnership. The Chamber of Commerce, with Barb Hancher as a guiding force and spokesperson, had an important role helping Lime City fill the new Riverfork Industrial Park.
Promoting commerce in and around Huntington also led Hancher and the Chamber to sponsor the first Huntington County EXPO business showcase in 1991, and two years later a Chamber committee sponsored the Huntington County Leadership initiative, preparing local residents for future community development roles.
In 1995, the Chamber moved from its West Market Street quarters to new offices at Warren and Court streets. Hancher and the Chamber also backed the establishment in 1997 of the cooperative venture known as Huntington County United Economic Development, or HCUED.
Hancher left her position as Chamber president in the fall of 1999 to move into a part-time role as executive director of the Chamber’s new economic development division. That allowed her to continue to do what she most enjoyed — promoting and marketing the expanding Riverfork Industrial Park.
The successes achieved during her Chamber tenure would not have been possible had Hancher not earned and maintained the confidence and respect of local business leaders and officials at all levels of government. Having lived nearly all her life in Huntington, she understood the community’s culture and values, and tirelessly communicated the promise that Huntington County represented for a prosperous future. Working with a series of Chamber boards of directors, she established an economic development framework that remains in place today, and the cooperative spirit she fostered while at the Chamber’s helm continues to inspire Huntington County’s progress.
Barbara Hancher is now retired and living in Fort Wayne with her husband, Bill. They enjoy an active life among friends, and the love and companionship of two sons, a daughter, and four grandchildren.
Looking back at a career marked by memorable experiences, infused with a love of community and a can-do spirit, Barbara Hancher has declared: “I am most proud of being Chamber president. It was an exciting time for me and, I think, for the Chamber, too. We did a lot of good things and I learned so much. It was right up my alley!”
All pioneers blaze a trail for others to follow. One such trail is Barb Hancher’s “alley.”