Princeton area chamber board has five new members

 A beauty salon operator, an insurance agency owner, an insurance agent, a Fairview Foundation community relations specialist and a school superintendent are the five new members of the Princeton Area Chamber of Commerce board.

They were elected during the chamber’s November membership meeting. They are:

–Superintendent Julia Espe, who has been in the job a year now with the Princeton School District.

–Jeff Gongoll, Fairview Health Services’ director of community relations.

–Nikki Elton, who owns and operates Nikki’s Salon.

–Curt Van Oort, who owns the local State Farm insurance Agency.

–David Haugen, an insurance agent for Princeton Agencies, which many informally know as Princeton Insurance Agency.

Elton, a native of the area, became an assistant manager at Taco John’s after high school, and later was manager of Princeton Speedway for four years. She has also been a hair stylist for 13 years.

Her resume also includes Princeton Youth Hockey Association board treasurer. She enjoys fishing, traveling, and enjoying time with her son, 9.

Elton said she wanted to be on the board because she’s very interested in community affairs and what is going on in Princeton.

“As a new business owner, I would like to see continued growth in our community,” Elton said. “It is essential to encourage opportunities for new businesses and to support existing businesses to remain here. We have to promote Princeton so our residents and those of nearby communities shop local.”

Espe, prior to her Princeton superintendent job, was in the job as an interim superintendent for a short time. Before that, she was an assistant superintendent in St. Cloud, a high school principal in Lakeville and Austin,  and a gifted and talented program coordinator in Rochester.

Espe grew up in Pekin, Ill., and said she loves spending time with her grandchildren and family, reading and likes having a lot of civic involvement through the schools.

Espe, besides the educational resume she listed, has been involved in strategic planning and said she can bring that experience to the chamber board. She said she feels she is “good at seeing positive connections.”

“I believe that schools and the business community should be linked together to help our community thrive and grow. Princeton is a really cool town, and I am fortunate to be here!”

Regarding goals as a board member, she said, “I would like to see that we reach our goals in our strategic plan.”

Haugen grew up in St. Cloud. He is a violinist with the St. Cloud Symphony Orchestra and a member of the St. Cloud Rotary Club.

Haugen did not list specific professional past occupations but has a background in finance. and is board president for the St. Cloud Symphony Orchestra.

“I enjoy being part of groups that strive to improve the success of the local community,” Haugen said. “I will try to be a good listener and act on the feedback our board receives from the business community.”

As a board member, he said he hopes to “continue to grow as an asset and resource for local businesses and be proactive in assisting in their success.”

Van Oort has worked at State Farm Insurance for 23 years, of which 16 have been in Princeton. His places of work besides Princeton have been Burnsville, Hibbing and St. Cloud.

He likes camping, fishing, hunting, hiking, snowmobiling, and working out at Crossfit Beyond Sport. He belongs to Princeton Lions Club, is a volunteer at Princeton Kinship Youth Mentoring, and is one of the Reading Buddies in the Princeton School District.

Van Oort said being on the board would be a “great opportunity” to give back to the community.

He said, as a board member, he hopes to help the business community in Princeton continue to grow and revitalize as the economy continues to improve.”

Gongoll, an Elk River native who still resides there, was director of community development for Elk River for a time and before that was executive director of the Elk River Chamber of Commerce. He was also chair of the Elk River Economic Development Authority for many years.

He said he has worked on the behalf of businesses for several years and is now doing the same for Fairview. He was also involved in Three Rivers Community Foundation raising money to give grants to nonprofits and scholarships to graduating seniors at Elk River High School.

Gongoll’s interests include being out in the woods, hunting, fishing, being at a cabin along the Gunflint Trail near Grand Marais, and enjoying his family.

“I want to be part of the business community in general,” said of why he wanted to be on the board.

His goals while on the board are to support and help grow the community and businesses, he said.

“First, the chamber must represent businesses here and help them grow, while working with the city, county and state governments to make that happen,” he said.

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