Willmar Chamber President Ken Warner says he will miss working on community projects when he retires

Retiring president of the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce Ken Warner says he has enjoyed his time working for the Willmar business community.

Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce logo.png
Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce logo

WILLMAR — Ken Warner, longtime president of the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, has announced his plans to retire in October.

Warner informed Chairman Jon Rambow and the chamber’s board of directors of his retirement in a letter Friday. His resignation will be effective Oct. 6, the 38th anniversary of his beginning to work in the Chamber of Commerce industry.

Ken Warner photo 2010
Ken Warner, Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce

Of that 38 years, 33 of them have been spent in Willmar. Warner’s time in Willmar was split by a two-year stint working for the St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce. He worked in Willmar from 1988 to 1995 and returned in 1997 after his time in St. Cloud.

In his letter to the board, he wrote, “It's been a privilege and honor to serve the members of the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce. Together with a committed staff and hundreds of active volunteers, we have successfully built an organization dedicated to advancing the business interests of our members and the Kandiyohi County community.”

Warner wrote that he has “thoroughly enjoyed” his time at the chamber.


Reflecting on his career in an interview Thursday, Warner, 65, said he liked to look back on the community organizations and projects that were first discussed in the chamber offices after someone walked in and said, “Hey, I’ve got an idea. ... The majority of them weren't because of anything I did, but I was able to be part of the team and see some of these things happen.”

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Among the accomplishments he listed — Willmar Lakes Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, Willmar Area Community Foundation, Destination Playground at Robbins Island, completion of the Highway 23/71 bypass around Willmar and the four-lane expansion of Highway 23 between Willmar and Interstate 94.

“It's fun to drive around Kandiyohi County and see things I remember working on,” he said. “So many people do things because they want to do the right thing, not for the kudos and the attention.”

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Willmar was named an All America City in 2005, something Warner recalled with pride. The award recognized the community’s efforts to deal with its growing diversity.

“We’re still dealing with it,” he said. The community’s efforts to welcome and integrate newcomers have led to continued recognition. Leaders from communities with changing populations now contact Willmar for guidance in navigating the change.

Perhaps the biggest challenge of his career came in recent years, “from the pandemic to everyone needing employees to requests for help so businesses continue to grow and prosper,” he said in his letter to the board.

The chamber lost dozens of members during the pandemic, he wrote, and he hopes they will eventually come back.

Warner said he plans to stay in Willmar after his retirement and hopes to find something to do part time.


“It’s been a fun career,” he said. “It’s going to be hard to not be in the middle of the fray.”

In a news release Friday, the chamber board announced that it had formed a search committee to recruit Warner’s successor. Employment Plus, a local employment agency, has been hired to assist in vetting the candidates.

Candidate inquiries should go to Mary Warszynski at 320-235-1707.

In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: or phone 320-214-4340
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