When Wende Ragonis started her new job on May 15, she took on over 830 new responsibilities.
As the new president and CEO of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce, Ragonis is responsible for supporting and representing the 830 members that make up the chamber.
While to some this may seem like a daunting task, Ragonis can draw upon her 22 years of consulting and management experience in industry and local government.
Born and raised in Odessa as a fifth generation Texan, Ragonis earned her degree in management information systems from Baylor University before working for six years with Anderson Consulting, now called Accenture, in Houston. After marrying her husband Tamir in 1998, the couple moved to Brenham in 2005, where Ragonis has worked in the manufacturing industry for over 13 years, some with Longwood Elastomers and with her husband’s business Hi-Tech Machine Tools Services, Inc., of which she now serves as president.
In 2012, Ragonis became the director of community services for the City of Brenham.
“I got to work on lots of fun projects, but probably the thing I’m most proud of is being the facilitator and construction manager for the library,” said Ragonis. “So I got to work very very closely with the library advisory board and with council to design and build and furnish and staff the new library.
“A lot of people in the community didn’t understand the value that the library brings to a community, but a library is really a key part of the local economy, and I’m very proud that I got to be a part of bringing the library that we have today to the community.”
After six years in this role, Ragonis left her job at the city in 2018 and began working as a part-time management consultant to an oil and gas company in the Woodlands with large holdings in Africa. “It was a very fulfilling job and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be on a project of that magnitude with their company. I really enjoyed it,” said Ragonis.
However, Ragonis soon decided she needed to be working closer to home when she lost her husband in a car accident last October.
“All my plans changed,” she said. “With the passing of my husband, my seasons changed in my life, and I really needed to be back engaged in our community and closer to my children and my parents who live here. I love Brenham, and I love being a part of the community, and since I had left my role at the city I really missed being engaged in the community and just being home.”
After receiving a phone call about the open position at the chamber, Ragonis applied and received the job.
In the month and a half since she took on the position, Ragonis said she has been “doing a lot of listening and assessing. I am hosting a series of roundtables and trying to get out to meet as many members as I can. My time is focused on getting to know the board, the Blue Blazers and the amazing staff.”
One aspect of the job Ragonis has enjoyed so far is bringing information to the community through outside speakers and connecting members.
“The great thing about working for the chamber is you’re the person who gets to connect all the dots,” she explained. “I have the opportunity to connect members to each other that may not be aware of each other, to help them either grow their supply chains or their business. It’s more than just going to events or ribbon cuttings. Every ribbon cutting I’ve attended, I’ve learned something very critical about that business that I’ve been able to share or pass along to others who might have a need that one particular business is able to fill. I’m able to connect the dots to help their businesses grow and be the guardian of the economy because we see everyone’s business from a different perspective.”
Ragonis said her goal is to be an advocate for chamber members.
“Membership in the chamber is important because it guarantees you a seat at the table,” she said. “For example, individual small businesses don’t always have the time to spend attending various community meetings that ultimately impact how they conduct business, but when you are a member of a larger association like the chamber, there are more of you to lean on for support. When you have established a network or circle of like businesses with similar challenges, then there is real power in that voice. That is what the chamber does for its members, it creates a circle of strong voices to ensure every member is heard. Representing individual businesses, the chamber becomes the guardian of the economy and the catalyst for change in our community. I am excited to be the lead advocate for our members, and I am looking forward to learning more about each industry that is represented in our membership.”
While Ragonis wants to develop a relationship with each of the businesses of the chamber, she said time constraints make this task difficult.
“The most challenging part of the job is there’s not enough time to get out and meet everyone,” she explained. “We have over 830 members, so in a perfect world, I would have enough time to get out and meet and shake hands and talk and build a relationship with every single one of our members. So to me, that’s the most challenging part because I want to have a relationship and I want to know personally every member, but there’s just not enough time in every day to do that. I enjoy the opportunity when I get to meet and know people and understand their business.”
In mid-September, Ragonis will share information on what the chamber has accomplished in her 100 days there and will also present more detailed plans for what she envisions for the future of the organization.
“When I look at 2020 and beyond, I see the chamber being the guardian of the economy, the person that is connecting the dots for our businesses,” said Ragonis. “I also see the chamber as the catalyst for change. So one of the things I really want to do for members is be their advocate. Be their advocate with our local government, our state government, our federal government offices if needed. Be their advocate for their industry.
“How can we help our members accomplish their goals and grow their business? Because at the end of the day, that’s what we’re in business to do is to help our members be successful, to help our members grow and sustain their business.
“I see my role as a service role, because we are in service to our members at the chamber. So if there’s concerns or questions, my door is always open.”
Ragonis said her role is all about giving back to the community that has already given her and her family so much. Brenham, she said, has been a wonderful place to raise her three children: Noah, who recently finished his freshman year at Baylor University; Cole, a senior at Brenham High School where he plays football; and Moli, a BHS sophomore and cheerleader.
“Brenham has been an amazing place to raise a family,” Ragonis said. “We’ve been very very blessed by the community here, and so I love to take any opportunity that I can to give back.”
Friday nights in the fall are a time Ragonis said she especially enjoys. As a graduate of Permian High School, the focus of H. G. Bissinger’s book “Friday Night Lights” which was written when she was a student there, Ragonis has plenty of fond memories from Friday nights.
“Growing up in West Texas, I love Friday nights. It’s one of my all-time favorite things to be at the stadium watching all the kids and the band. I have such amazing memories as a child growing up in West Texas, and I absolutely love that about Brenham, is going to the football games and watching the band. Noah was on the drum line in the band, so we absolutely love the band. We were band parents. We have great memories. I’m super excited about the fall. I think we’re going to have a great season.”
Ragonis said the community has also supported her when her husband was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s B-cell lymphoma in 2010 and spent lots of time in and out of the hospital.
“It just made me so thankful to be in Brenham with such a great community of people,” she said. “I’m very blessed and I’m very thankful that God brought us to Brenham in 2005. I think that was part of God’s plan to bring us here, because he knew with my husband being so ill that we needed to be surrounded by a community that was gracious and kind and compassionate, and that’s what Brenham is.”
Ragonis has already given back to the community through participating with several non-profits, including serving as board chair of the Boys and Girls Club of Washington County, an elder of Brenham Presbyterian Church, vice president of the BISD Foundation, and one of the board of directors for the Country Club.
“Any time I have the opportunity to give back to the community, I love that because this community has been so generous to my family,” she said. “How can you not like being in a leadership role in this town? How can you not like giving back? How can you not like being part of the chamber who does so many great things for businesses?
“I’d like to see myself here in Brenham for many many years to come, if not forever, and just serving this community in some capacity, whether it’s here at the chamber or in some other role. I always see myself giving back to this community and Washington County, because they have given me so much, my family so much over the years. I can’t see myself doing anything else, and that’s why I think I’m so glad to be back in Brenham in this role because it just fits who I am.”