When Dianna Ehrenfried accepts the gavel on Thursday, she will be only the eighth woman in 66 years to lead the Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce.
But her leadership signals more than a changing of the guard. It represents a personal milestone for Ehrenfried, who will have risen from her darkest days, when she found herself a widow at 49 with an 8-year old son to raise and a business to grow.
"It was really a tough time. I was at rock bottom," says Ehrenfried, of Prospect Heights, who owns Visualedge Creative Services, Inc. a graphic design and marketing firm. "I was scared and sad and unsure of how I was going to be self-sufficient, all at the same time."
Her husband, Tom, had suffered a massive heart attack in his sleep, after they had returned home from his birthday dinner. The couple had been married nearly 25 years.
Suddenly alone, as a single mother and business owner, she took some time off. Then she returned and threw herself into the business, surviving, she says, with the help of her family, friends and strong faith.
One of her first decisions, Ehrenfried says, was to take a more active role in the chamber. She accepted a position on the board of directors, and three years later moved to its executive board.
"We've been business members of the chamber since 2000," Ehrenfried says, "and it's true. The more you get involved, the more you get out of it."
According to Deb Whisler, communications and marketing director for the Arlington Heights Memorial Library, and a former chamber president herself, Ehrenfried brings a blend of business know-how to the role, as well as her expertise in graphic design and marketing.
"Dianna is a creative, big-picture thinker, who listens to people and values their talents," Whisler said. "She is a hard worker and an inclusive leader, so it should be a great year for the business community."
Ehrenfried already has business connections that extend throughout the Northwest suburbs. Her staff has created economic development campaigns, marketing pieces and community newsletters for multiple communities, including Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Des Plaines, Elk Grove Village, Hanover Park and Hoffman Estates, as well as the Prospect Heights Fire Protection District, and Wheeling, Elk Grove and Palatine townships, to name a few.
While Ehrenfried has worked with each of these communities, she says she never saw herself as a business leader, until now.
"I was always so focused on growing my business," she says.
At about the same time she began getting involved in the chamber, Ehrenfried also looked for ways to help out at her church, St. Alphonsus Liguori, in Prospect Heights. She joined its management council first, but more recently she has found her niche on the bereavement committee, helping others overcome their losses.
Just as Ehrenfried extends herself to grieving parishioners, she now finds herself leading the more than 500 members of the chamber, helping them to grow their businesses and take more active roles, as she did nearly eight years ago.
Her activism in the chamber helped her personally and professionally, she says, and gave her the voice she never knew she had.