Lori Tucker doesn’t necessarily have a gauge for success. Instead, she looks at growth as a barometer for whether things are working right.
On Friday, Nov. 6, Tucker will be leaving her position as Director of the Baldwyn Main Street Chamber to pursue a similar position just a few miles away. What Tucker will be leaving behind in Baldwyn to show for her 13 years of leadership is a very extensive amount of growth.
Ever the consummate community cheerleader, Tucker is quick to point out the growth and positive changes seen in Baldwyn in the 13 years she has been with the Chamber are the work of not just her, but the community pulling together and the result of a key group of leaders working to make Baldwyn a better place.
The Main Street Chamber program was well established with Tucker became director, and though many people may think of the Chamber as just being in place for ribbon cuttings and festivals, Tucker spent much of her early time doing something she really didn’t expect. She soon found herself working to help secure grants for historic preservation of the town’s Downtown district, as a revival was in its early stages. With a background in retail, Tucker was able to use that experience help promote the area for new businesses. Again, though, Tucker is quick to point to those around her in the community who helped make the growth possible.
“Community development is a lot of making sure that if you have a strong industrial park, if you have a sustainable downtown, and a great school system, your residential and all that will flourish,” Tucker said. “We have just tried to maintain and grow that, and I feel like we are a lot better than we were. (When she became director) we were probably around 80 percent vacancy within the downtown and we had buildings that were just boarded up and dilapidated. But we had investors that really stepped up to the plate and said, ‘let’s get this done.’”
Though she is hesitant to name names because she doesn’t want to leave out anyone who has played a role in the community’s growth, Tucker tears up when specifically speaking of two people who were pivotal in getting the ball rolling.
“Mr. Earl Stone and Gary Stone . . . I can’t hardly talk about him,” Tucker said of Gary Stone, who passed away after a battle with cancer. “They are great people, family-oriented; they just ‘get it.’ Eric Nanny just gets it. Clark Richey just gets it. John Haynes . . . they get it. But there are so many, and I don’t want to leave anybody out.”
One of the first major tasks presented to Tucker was taking over the reins of the annual Okeelala Festival, the largest fundraiser for the Baldwyn Chamber, which would have enjoyed it’s 41st year this year had it not been cancelled due to the coronavirus. Tucker said she found herself in a difficult position because she’d never dealt with one particular aspect of the festival and was completely overwhelmed. She said it was the helping hands of others in the community that helped her grow into the role.
“I go back to my first car show I ever did here,” Tucker said. “I had no clue about historic cars or antique cars or car shows at all. And Mr. Bob Glover came to me and he just put his arm around me. I was about to have a breakdown, and Mr. Bob came to me and said, ‘It’s going to be okay. I’ve got everything and volunteers lined up and people are already excited about coming.’” She said having the help of many in the community like Glover was key in making the Chamber and the community work. “That goes back to that community buy-in,” she said. “They believed what we were selling. We were trying to make the quality of life for people here better and it’s just those local people stepping up and saying, ‘Hey, I’ll do that,’ or ‘let me help with that.’”
Tucker’s leadership at such a key time in Baldwyn’s history draws praise from several quarters.
“Lori loves Baldwyn. It’s her hometown. She is a Bearcat at heart and always will be,” said Main Street Chamber President Cherity Blackwell. “She has done a tremendous job pulling the community together to make strides that have placed us where we are today. Our Main Street has gone from a handful of businesses 12 years ago to only a couple of empty storefronts today. It’s has taken teamwork and we have been led by one of the best coaches and cheerleader to get the job done. She will be missed by us all!”
Mayor Michael James echoed that sentiment. In addition to her duties with the Chamber, Tucker has served as a key assistant to James at City Hall.
“Just what all she does, really there aren’t words to explain it,” James said. “There was a position open in City Hall and we brought her in as my secretary, and she did whatever we needed. We just couldn’t have asked for anybody to have stepped up and done any better. She’s been tremendous. She’s a friend. She’s always been more than glad to do what was best for the city.”
Byron Coker, a chamber member who operates The New Stitch in downtown Baldwyn, was quick to praise Tucker as well.
“Years ago, Mark Twain penned the words, ‘It’s not size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.’ Very few times have I personally witnessed this in someone’s life, that is until I met Lori Tucker,” Coker said. “Few people hold that focus, fortitude and determination as my friend does. It has truly been a pleasure to work with her. Our transition to the Baldwyn business district was so smooth and flawless because of her efforts as the Main Street Director. We shared joy and the accolades that were awarded to her on the day she was awarded Main Street Director of the Year for the State of Mississippi. We’ve laughed, worked, sweated and felt exhaustion from many activities and functions to benefit this wonderful community we know as Baldwyn. I am forever thankful and grateful for the honor to have worked with Lori. She will be missed greatly on Main Street. The shoes left to be filled will require a special someone who has a love for our fair city. Lori exemplified not only a love for her city and community but an unashamed love for her family and her Lord. I for one will miss working directly with her. God’s speed in her directions, travel and new responsibilities”
A new chapter
Tucker said she was not looking to leave the position she loves but heading to work in Booneville is a good opportunity at the stage in life where she and her husband, Greg, find themselves.
“Several months ago, my husband and I were talking and I just happened to be flipping through the paper and I was reading about a position that was just 10 minutes up the road and I was just thinking to myself I might could help them. And I prayed about it,” Tucker said. “I did not just up and say, ‘I’m gonna go after that.’ After doing some research and just some soul-searching, I felt like maybe it was time for Baldwyn having a new cheerleader, and someone else can come in and rock the baby, because I do feel like this is my baby.”
Tucker said leaving her role with the city just as the important holiday season begins stresses her, but she is confident with the core group of business leaders in the Chamber that the work she has been involved in will continue along, and a new leader will emerge. She even took time to praise those not in the Chamber, such as members of the Baldwyn Street Department, who have stepped up to assist with handling traffic and helping in projects to assist with Chamber events. She feels comfortable in knowing the work will go on.
“I just can’t say enough about the way people step up and continue to do great things in this community,” Tucker said. “They just really do support each other, and that is so important.”