by Wayne Adams
An Anoka institution has a big milestone coming up. Actually, it’s an “institution” that sports a mustache, goatee and hearty laugh. On March 1, Peter Turok marks his 25th year as the president, spokesman and symbol of the Anoka Area Chamber of Commerce.
Turok’s ties with Anoka go back even further. He’s a graduate of Anoka High School. After attending Brown Institute, he put in a five-year stint as a sports announcer and disk jockey at a radio station in Glasgow, Montana. Returning to Anoka with his wife, Brenda, he worked at KANO, an AM radio station then located in the Bridge Square Building on the corner of Main Street and First Avenue.
The chamber of commerce had a small office in the same building and once a month Marilyn Halsey, the chamber’s president, would stop by the radio station to do a brief on-air report. One day she told Turok, “This is my last show – I’m retiring.”
This intrigued Turok, because he had been thinking of finding another line of work. He and Brenda had two youngsters by then and wanted to settle down in this area. Upward progress in the radio business, however, always involved moving around the country. He decided to apply at the chamber. He was the last to be interviewed and 90 people applied for the job.
Although the chamber hasn’t moved far geographically in these last 25 years (its office is just across the street from that original location) it has made some huge moves in other respects. Membership has gone from 125 to 640. Its original three cities have expanded to eight, and each of those cities has grown tremendously as well. And instead of the chamber being a one-person office, it helps to have another full-time staff member. “I’ve been blessed with every one who’s been in that chair,” Turok says. “Tami Flygare’s help for the last 10 years has been huge.”
Annual gala dinners and golf tournaments were added and have been very successful. After helping with the city of Anoka’s 120th anniversary celebration 15 years ago, the chamber has continued by putting on the Riverfest every year since. With 20,000 people attending, the event helps put Anoka on the map.
There have been lots of technology changes along the way as well. “When I walked in the office on the very first day, there was a brand new Sperry computer on the desk,” Turok recalls. “It had been there for about four months, but Marilyn Halsey knew she was retiring and hadn’t touched it.” Pete began using the new computer to set type for the chamber newsletter, adding rub-off letters for the headlines and pasting it up with rubber cement on a drafting table. Today, chamber members can choose to subscribe to a high-tech newsletter either online or by mail. Another communications innovation was the monthly cable TV show on QCTV that features chamber news as well as profiles of member businesses.
Although many chambers have been having financial problems, the Anoka one has been in the black every year under Turok’s direction except for two (2008 and 2009, during the “great recession”). He doesn’t take credit, however, for the Anoka chamber’s success.
“We’ve just been outrageously blessed with members who believe in the vision and the mission,” he says. “From the beginning, every time we put out a call our people step forward. I’ve found that people are incredibly smart, and you just need to give them the opportunity to take ownership. We have so many owners in the Anoka Area Chamber of Commerce. They love to come together, work towards something, and feel good about it. It’s not Pete’s chamber. It’s the players.”
Turok gets a lot of e-mail from other chamber execs asking how he does it. “I read somewhere that the average chamber exec lasts five years or less,” he says. “Some have told me I’m the longest-running chamber guy in the same job in the metro, if not the state.” How has he kept from burning out in his hectic job?
One secret he reveals is that, when juggling 40 balls in the air, it’s best to concentrate on catching the ones closest to the floor and worry about the higher ones later. A second secret is that it’s better to come to work at 5 a.m., try to stage nearly all meetings during the day and leave the evenings free whenever possible to spend time with your family. And the third secret is to love what you do. “I get overwhelmed sometimes,” he says, “but I still like coming to work every day. It’s a blast!”