When K.C. Belitz took over as president of the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce in November 2000, he didn’t know where it would take him. But a little more than 18 years later, he has a good sense.

“I don’t think any of us know for sure when we start out, but it has been an extraordinary experience,” Belitz told The Columbus Telegram on Monday night. “I have been blessed to be around outstanding professionals on the staff and truly outstanding volunteer leaders. I think about how many board members I’ve been really lucky to work with. I’ve been fortunate.”

But almost two decades later – well past the normal tenure of a chamber director – Belitz on Monday announced to the Chamber’s Board of Directors his intention to resign in early 2019 to become chief operating officer of the Nebraska Community Foundation, a new position focused on community impact among NCF’s network of 220 affiliated funds serving nearly 260 state communities.

“The chance to do this kind of work we’ve been doing here at a state-wide basis is a pretty unique opportunity,” Belitz said. “To have a chance to be part of making an impact across rural Nebraska, not many people get that opportunity. So I’m awfully lucky to be one who hopefully will make a positive difference by having that chance.”

Belitz started at the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce on Nov. 13, 2000, and made an impact by helping run various community functions and committees, as well as for speaking out as an advocate for the area and rural communities, among other things.

“The Chamber is grateful to K.C. for his service for almost two decades as staff and 10 years before that as a volunteer,” said Dennis Grennan, chairman of the Chamber Board of Directors, through a released statement. “During his time as president, he has maintained the culture of collaboration and vision that has been the hallmark of our Chamber of Commerce for many years. He will be missed here but we know he’ll continue to do work that will benefit Columbus and greater Nebraska.”

Grennan later spoke with The Telegram and praised Belitz for his efforts throughout the years.

“K.C. has a way of connecting the community, if you will, both internally … as well as outside the community of Columbus,” he said. “K.C. was just good at facilitating and brought good things as a result to Columbus and the region.”

Belitz said though NCF is based out of Lincoln, he is excited his new employer will allow him to work out of Columbus and maintain his position as head varsity volleyball coach at Lakeview High School. The ability to live and stay active in the community while doing some travel was attractive to him.

“That was an important part of the decision-making process. I just don’t have an interest in leaving Columbus at this stage,” Belitz said “I’m certainly fortunate the Nebraska Community Foundation will allow me to do this job from here and give me a level of flexibility. I am grateful for the opportunity to do the job and stay here in my hometown and remain part of this community and coach. Those kids mean a great deal to me.”

Reaction from the community was bittersweet.

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Mayor Jim Bulkley called Belitz a friend and said he has done a lot for the local community throughout the years.

“He has just been rock solid. He has always been there; you couldn’t ask for a better spokesperson for the community,” Bulkley said. “He has always been at the forefront of trying to make things happen and he has been very instrumental in making these things happen … He’s been tireless in all of his efforts to promote our community. He’s an all-around great guy.”

The mayor said Belitz’s new job will ultimately benefit the entire state.

“Although he will be hard to replace, he will be there for us for support and he will do great things in his new endeavor,” Bulkley said. “Nebraska couldn’t pick a better spokesperson and leader.”

Rick Chochon, president/CEO of Chamber member Great Plains State Bank, has been friends with Belitz for more than a decade.

“I think K.C. has done a great job for Columbus and the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce, but this is a great personal move for him, and I applaud him for positioning himself to personally move up,” Chochon said. “K.C. is a person who is very driven and focused on the success of Columbus and the Chamber. He has built one of the top chambers of commerce not only in the state, but in the nation.”

Grennan said he will lead a selection committee that will begin an immediate search to find Belitz’s successor, though he noted it's too early to say when the position will be filled.

“We are confident that there will be strong interest in this position,” Grennan said, in the news release. “The Chamber has a great staff in place, strong membership base and respect in the local community. This will be a great platform for the next leader of our organization to take the Chamber another step forward.”

Belitz said he’s eager for the future but remains indebted to the people he has worked with throughout the years that have helped him along the way. He said he plans to remain an active community member in various capacities as long as people want him to be.

“I’ve been extraordinarily blessed to do this job, this work for these people, this community. It’s been an ideal situation, so to give that up … there just aren’t that many positions that would have been worth it,” he said. “This is a unique place and the stuff we’ve done is unique, so again, I know that’s why I have this chance. I don’t take that for granted. Hopefully, I can honor that in the work I help do going forward."

Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at matt.lindberg@lee.net.

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Managing Editor

Matt Lindberg is an award-winning journalist and graduate of the University of Kansas.

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