Mull takes Chamber reins

Benny Westcott

Former City of Sweet Home Communications Specialist Lagea Mull won’t have to travel far down Main Street from her old City Hall stomping grounds to her new job as the Chamber of Commerce’s executive director.

She replaces Melody Reese, who stepped down from the position on Aug. 1.

Chamber Board President Christy Duncan described Mull as a well-rounded addition.

“She was just a great fit for Sweet Home,” Duncan said. “She’s from Sweet Home, she has family in Sweet Home and she loves Sweet Home. She’s super-qualified to do what the Sweet Home Chamber needs. We’re super-excited to have her.”

Duncan also hailed the new hire’s “great gift” of organization and task orientation, adding, “But, then, she’s also a great people person, and is interested in being out in the public. In a small town, it’s hard to find somebody who’s talented at both of those things.”

The chamber board reviewed applications for the position, then scheduled interviews with its three aspirants, all of whom lived in Sweet Home. Yet, according to Duncan, Mull was the unanimous choice.

Mull was encouraged to apply for the job after encouragement from community members and, especially, her husband, Tommy Mull Jr. She was a four-year veteran with the city, starting as a project assistant in April 2018 before becoming its communication specialist the following year.

“I’m a huge fan of Sweet Home, and I want to see Sweet Home do well,” she said. “Being with the chamber, I get to participate in that. I got to do that as a city employee, and now I get to do it with the chamber.”

While Mull said she enjoyed working for the city, she noted, “I communicated on COVID, the George Floyd incident and how that impacted law enforcement, the fires and on a lot of things that can rob your joy if that’s what you do for a living. And that can be a bit daunting.”

Her new job, she said, sounded more fun, though she found parallels between the two.

“I am a networker, and I did that with the city, because part of communicating is building your network,” she explained. “That’s who you communicate with. So this continues that role for me.”

It also allowed Mull to make connections.

“The nice part is that I know a good majority of the major players in town,” she said. “I know the business owners and I know who to talk to at the city about different things.”

She spoke of her good working relationship with the city’s Community and Economic Development Director, Blair Larsen, adding, “I’m looking forward to continuing to work with him, but in a different role.”

Mull spent part of her very early life in Sweet Home, though she likely doesn’t remember it, as her family moved to Canby when she was two weeks old. They relocated to Chehalis, Wash., when she was three, and then, about a decade later, found themselves in Centerville, Ohio. Mull graduated from Centerville High School in 1989, then attended Simpson University in Redding, Calif. She later found work as a nanny in Los Angeles and returned to Oregon, where she worked as a shipping clerk and hardware setter for Neilsen Manufacturing Inc. in Salem.

During that time, Mull met her first husband and the pair moved to Tucson, Ariz., where they lived for a decade. There, Mull worked for an America Online call center and did pension plans for the third-party pension administrator Benefit and Retirement Strategies.

Mull then moved back to L.A., where she became a nanny again before heading to Illinois, where her second husband, Tommy Mull Jr., served at the Scott Air Force Base (she received Scott Air Force Base Spouse of the Year honors in 2013) while she worked as a database administrator for Cornerstone Christian Church in Shiloh from 2012 to 2014. She then became a resident services specialist for Scott Family Housing at the base from 2015 to 2016.

When the couple moved to Sweet Home later that year, Mull, in addition to her city work, served as an office manager for the River of Life church from 2017 to 2020.

“Of all the places we could live in the country, we chose to live here,” she said. “I’ve lived all over the country, and I feel most at home in east Linn County. That was one of the reasons why we chose Sweet Home.”

Mull’s mother, Lynetta Corley, was born in Sweet Home and raised in Brownsville. Mull’s father, Jim Corley, was working at a mill outside of Brownsville when his daughter was born. Today, Mull’s sister, Susan Coleman, a Sweet Home City Council member since 2017, lives one street over. She also has a number of cousins, aunts and uncles in the area.

In addition to its citizenry, Mull loves Sweet Home’s scenery.

“I love the beauty here,” she said. “It’s gorgeous. And I love it being a small town. I know it’s getting bigger for some people, and that makes people nervous, but I love it. I love the hard work that people will put in. I love the volunteerism of our town, and I love that when there’s an emergency, people bind together and support each other.”

She admitted that the city has experienced its share of struggles, but she sees a brighter future ahead.

“I really feel like we’ve been riding into the wind for quite a while,” she said. “We’re making movement, but we’re just running into a lot of wind. But I feel like we’re going to turn that corner and we’re going to have the wind at our back. I truly believe that we are at the crux of a lot of growth. We see a lot of new homes coming in, and apartments and whatnot.”

She described local business growth as well, citing Taco Bell and 20 West Brewery being built on Main Street.

As for government, she said, “I’m excited about the new city manager, Kelcey Young. I believe she has not just great ideas, but great connections that’s going to really help us grow our business community here in town.”

Mull wanted to emphasize the city’s positives.

“I think people get distracted by some of the empty buildings,” she said, “but at the same time we’ve had a lot of improvements. And I would encourage people to focus on those. There are businesses that have stayed the course and continue to work through. A lot of people commute to jobs outside of Sweet Home, but they choose to come and make their home here.”

“We have a lot of potential,” she continued. “I think we all work best as a community when we are together. The ‘unity’ in ‘community,’ right? That’s what really is the root of it, that unity there.”

She said that business owners don’t have to compete, but can be complementary, and that the chamber’s role is to connect them.

Another component of chamber work: outreach.

“We know what’s going on in Sweet Home, and those of us that live here know it. But we need to do a better job of telling the world what’s going on here,” Mull said.

She particularly enjoys the chamber’s events.

“Cut the Gut has just been a fun thing,” she said. “I love seeing people committed and doing well with those things.”

Mull also spoke of the chamber’s upgraded website that was recently integrated with ChamberMaster, which allows chamber membership to create and update its own online directory listings. Additionally, members can manage accounts via an app, where they can assign team members to different roles and add job postings. The chamber had previously used ChamberMaster, but eliminated it. “We’re very excited to have ChamberMaster back,” Mull said. “It’s such a great tool.”

Despite the positives, the chamber continues to recover from a rough patch it hit when former chamber executive director Katrina Crabtree (2015-2017) pleaded guilty in 2019 to three counts of fraudulent use of a credit card and was sentenced to one year of probation and 10 days of community service, paying the chamber $2,500 in restitution.

“At times, people aren’t aware of the value of chamber membership,” Mull said. “Things that have happened in the past – I think there’s still a shadow of that, even though so much work has been done to right the ship after that hurricane.”

Righting the ship has included some actionable steps.

“There’s great checks and balances in place,” Mull said. “Everybody working together has that common goal of being fiduciary responsible and being compliant with the IRS and all other governing agencies. We want to be mindful of the past and honor people’s feelings about that, but then also encourage them to step with us into the future. Because the best way to make change is just to do it together.”

Mull would love more volunteers to complement the few that already pitch in at the chamber, which is also a visitor center, during the week.

“It would be great to have someone who has a love for the community and meeting new people, and can answer questions,” she said.

Mull and her husband, who works for Northwest Community Credit Union in Eugene, have five children counting stepchildren, and one grandchild. Two of those children, Emily Cook and Ben Mull, live in Sweet Home. Ty Coons lives in Florence, Tanner Coons lives in Yachats and Audrey Longroy lives in Reno, Nev.

In her free time, Mull loves to bake and explore genealogy and history. She recently researched the chamber’s first meeting in 1939 and looks forward to making her own history.

“I would love to do this for a long time,” she said. “This feels like a really great fit. I get to continue to communicate and design things, and I get to do those things and meet with great people.”