New Dardanelle chamber director a ‘go-getter’

By Tammy Keith Originally Published May 12, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated May 10, 2013 at 2:50 p.m.
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Nick Hillemann

Ashley Andrews, 26, was hired a little more than a month ago as executive director of the Dardanelle Area Chamber of Commerce. She was just in time to finish preparations for Yell Fest, which was held Friday and Saturday. Her professional mentor, Arkansas Tech assistant professor Thomas Vaughn, called Andrews “smart, engaged and charismatic.” He said she will be a “great advocate” for business leaders in the community.

Ashley Andrews said she’s not afraid to fight for what she wants.

What the 26-year-old wanted was an interview for the executive director’s job at the Dardanelle Area Chamber of Commerce.

Fresh out of Arkansas Tech University in Russellville with a communication degree, she wasn’t sure she’d get a shot.

“I prayed, and I said, ‘Oh, God, if you will just allow me to meet these people in person, I will knock their socks off.’”

“And I did, and here I am.”

Andrews, who lives in Russellville, said she was hired from among 25 applicants.

Suzie Awalt, ex-officio president of the board, said Andrews made a strong impression.

“She really blew us away at the interview,” Awalt said. “She seems like a go-getter; she has a very positive attitude. She seems to be very community-oriented and wants to be involved with our community and its growth. She’s young and energetic; I think she’ll do a great job.”

Andrews said this is the first job she’s accepted since graduating in May 2012.

“I was just a substitute teacher in the meantime until I found a job that suited me,” she said. “I didn’t want to settle.

“I did my research and said, ‘Wow, this is what I went to school for. This job is going to be perfect for me.’

“I have a strong will and a powerful presence, and I’m not afraid to fight for the things I want. I just knew I wanted to make a difference, and the money didn’t matter to me.

“I’m really big on quality of life. I want to be happy when I wake up in the morning. I want to be excited when I’m going to work.”

“It’s going to probably seem a little cliché, but I’ve always known I would be in some sort of leadership role.”

Someday, Andrews would like to run for political office.

“Of course, ultimately I’d love to have a position like the governor. That would be a dream come true for me, but I understand you have to work your way up. I understand you can’t start at the top,” she said.

It doesn’t take much to figure out that her upbringing contributed to her determination.

Born in California, she was 4 when her family moved to Russellville. She was 11 when she moved to Las Vegas with her father after her parents’ divorce.

“It was really hard,” she said. “I was away from my sisters, who I grew up with my whole life.

“Even though my mom, we weren’t together physically, she’s been my best friend my entire life, no matter how far apart we were.”

Andrews said her dad, who died two years ago at 69, “was the most amazing father.”

“My dad really picked up the pieces and gave me a really wonderful, wonderful life. I’m just the luckiest girl in the world to have a dad like that,” she said.

Andrews, who attended a community college in Nevada, came back to Russellville when she was 20 and started to Arkansas Tech.

“It has been a long road getting my education, but I knew I had to do it for my kids. I wanted my sons to be proud of me,” the single mother said.

Andrews has two sons, 8 and 5. The 5-year-old lives with his father in Louisiana.

“He’s an awesome kid, and I see him all the time,” she said.

She also wanted to teach her children that “just because you face hardships doesn’t mean you can’t accomplish your goals,” she said.

“The day I graduated was one of the proudest days of my life. It was a personal accomplishment — the biggest one I’ve ever had so far.

“I felt like a million bucks. When I was walking across the stage, gosh, I wish my father was there to see me.”

Andrews said being able to hit the ground running in her new job is another triumph.

“I came in at the craziest time possible, but I absolutely love it,” she said. “I work well under stress.”

Yell Fest was scheduled to be held Friday and Saturday in downtown Dardanelle.

One of her goals is to start planning sooner for next year’s festival.

“They’ve done a wonderful job this year, and they have every year, but coming in, I’d like to see that happening earlier. That way we can have more sponsors, more entertainment. The earlier you get started, the better chances you have to make a better event,” Andrews said.

“We have a wonderful downtown area and a project that will be finished this summer,” she said, referring to the Front Street restoration.

Even though she lives in Russellville, Andrews said she always has enjoyed Dardanelle.

“I really do love Dardanelle. I think the small towns are what make America wonderful. I love Arkansas; I love the South,” she said.

Her mother, who has remarried, and her sisters are in Russellville, and they are a close family, she said.

Andrews said she’s realizing her dream of making a difference.

“It may not seem like I’m just doing a whole lot of good, but, man, I’m the chamber of commerce. I’m helping people starting a business,” she said.

“It was their dream, maybe, to open a small-town beauty shop; they may have one person working for them. It’s not just for the big people. It’s for the little man, too.

“I don’t want the small businesses to think the chamber is out of their reach. I’m fighting for them, too.”

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501)

327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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