‘The city hit a home run’
Lee returns to Berryville as chamber director
Berryville native Dean Lee was officially introduced as the new executive director of the Greater Berryville Area Chamber of Commerce during a reception Tuesday, April 6, at the Berryville Community Center.
It almost didn’t happen.
According to Berryville Economic Development director Chris Claybaker, who served on the search committee for a new director, Lee’s application was nearly dismissed out of hand.
“When I saw his resume might come through, I just dismissed it almost immediately,” Claybaker said. “How can Dr. Dean Lee come to Berryville, Arkansas? How can we pay him? That was my biggest worry, because I know that we’ve struggled during the pandemic.”
Lee, 64, is a 1975 graduate of Berryville High School. He earned his bachelor’s degree in education in 1979 and his master’s degree in education in 1981, both from Henderson State University in Arkadelphia. He earned his doctorate of education from the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville in 1989.
Lee, most recently of Hot Springs Village, is a former high school basketball coach who previously served as athletic director at Arkansas Tech University and Arkansas State University, where he served for 12 years, including a stint as associate vice chancellor for advancement.
He also served as vice president of the University of Arkansas’ Razorback Foundation, as vice president of the OSU Foundation at Oklahoma State University and as executive director of alumni and constituent relations for the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
“When we were actually sitting down and talking to him, finding out that he’s a Berryville boy, that he’s coming up here all the time seeing this mama — after seeing all that, and looking at what he’s done in the past, we decided we needed to do whatever we had to do to get him, and it wasn’t that hard because he wanted to come home.
“I think the city hit a home run.”
Lee was introduced by Berryville chamber president Tyler Squires, who said he was excited to bring Lee back to town.
“This is my fourth year on the chamber board,” Squires said, “and I’ve really gotten to see it grow and develop during my time here. I really am excited about the direction we were heading anyway, but I was also excited to be a part of getting to select a new executive director for the chamber who will have a great vision to bring the chamber forward and to continue the strong growth and development that we’ve seen here for Berryville.”
Lee, who spoke briefly during the reception, said he was happy to get a chance to serve his hometown.
“I’ve been kind of pins and needles, afraid that [Berryville Mayor Tim McKinney] would come in and do like they do at a wedding and announce, ‘if there’s anybody here that has any objections to this union, speak now or forever hold your peace,’ ” Lee said. “It has been 45 years that I’ve been here and lived in this community. That’s back in the days of eight-track tape. The best social media at that time was listening to your neighbor on the party line, but I’ve always tried to keep contact.”
Lee said he would frequently check in with his friends from high school and that his mother, Dorothy Terry, would save newspapers for him when he visited.
“I’d take a sackful home and and read them to try to catch up,” Lee said. “I’d be two or three months behind, but it was always great to see what was happening here and I’ve always been impressed.”
Lee replaces Steve Johnson, who retired as the chamber’s executive director earlier this year. Johnson called Lee’s selection “a great hire.”
“I think Dean has some fantastic ideas and I think he’s got the expertise to take the chamber to the next level,” Johnson said. “I think he’s going to do a great job.”
Johnson, who was named interim executive director of the Berryville chamber in 2018, shepherded the organization through the worst part of the COVID-19 pandemic and said he expects Lee will face challenges of his own.
“He’s going to hit them head-on,” Johnson said. “He’s looking to grow the chamber and connect members and businesses together more. I think that he’ll do great overcoming the challenges of the pandemic that we had over the last year.”
In addition to his role as chamber director, Lee will also serve as community development director for the City of Berryville, working closely with the mayor’s office and Claybaker.
“We’re fortunate to have him,” McKinney said. “I expect it’s going to be a great benefit to the city. He has a lot of contacts and a lot of experience, and he’s full of energy and ideas and glad to be back in Berryville.”
On Tuesday, Lee shared just how glad.
“Every time I come back, my smile seems to be bigger,” Lee said. “The air seems to be fresher. You know, it seems like I enjoy life so much more here. And I’m thrilled to be back.”
Lee said he expects his new position will be challenging — “the most stressful job I’ve ever had in my life” — but that he can’t wait to get started.
“I know it’s going to be the most difficult job I’ve ever had, not because of the job nature itself,” Lee said. “It’s because I don’t want to disappoint you. I don’t want to disappoint my hometown. I’ll put more pressure on myself to be successful. We’re going to do everything we can to make things happen here.
“I know it’s also going to be the most gratifying and rewarding job because whatever we accomplish, we’re going to accomplish together.”