New Chamber director “discovers” Whidbey Island

In 1992 Nancy Rowan visited Whidbey Island on a business trip. She bought a post card of Langley and tucked it away in a box of mementos.

Now 16 years later, after many twists and turns, she is the executive director of the Langley Chamber of Commerce. And she couldn’t be happier.

“I feel like this is the place I should be living,” said Rowan, who with her husband Don, a financial consultant for Morgan Stanley in Seattle moved to Langley in 2004.

Rowan believes she is not unusual. Most people chose to come here, whether it was last year or five generations ago.

“We all have that in common,” Rowan said. “We chose this place, or our ancestors settled here,” she said.

“I love Langley. I love the way it is. The question is how can we best keep the quality of this wonderful place and support our local business people,” she said.

As the chamber’s executive director Rowan wants to build on what’s already in place.

Rowan hopes to create more business networking opportunities for business people of all types on South Whidbey.

“There are so many talented people here from business owners to dentists, doctors, writers, consultants and artisans. I want to get the different groups together so there is more mutual support in the community,” she said.

And she wants visitors to have a “wow” experience.

“That will begin with sprucing up the chamber office that houses the visitor’s center.

“You only get one chance to make a first impression,” she said.

“We want visitors to say, ‘What a wonderful town, let’s stay here.’ People who call for information will get the same personal treatment from our volunteers,” Rowan explained. “They will be talking to people, not listening to a recording.”

That means expanding the delegation of good-will workers.

“The volunteer staff will be called ‘ambassadors.’ They will be people who really know what’s going on to direct our visitors to events and places that will provide an unforgettable experience while they are here,” she said.

Rowan’s journey to Whidbey Island began when she was an apparel manufacturer in Chicago. Her company made the Playboy bunny costumes, along with other uniforms.

“When the style was changed I even had to model the new design,” she said.

And, yes she has visited the Playboy Mansion in Chicago, met Hugh Hefner and his daughter Christine, the CEO of Playboy.

“I was really impressed with Christine; she is a dynamic business woman.”

Following Rowan’s career as an apparel manufacturer, she was a factory representative for Gerber Technology in California, a company specializing in computer software for clothing manufacturers.

“When I applied for the job, I thought it was the baby food company,” Rowan said.

But a million air miles later, and a very successful career, she found herself on a business trip to the Puget Sound area.

“Our company encouraged us to stay over Saturday to save money, so I would take the weekend for side trips. I have my secretary to thank for my discovery of Whidbey Island,” Rowan said.

She found Captain Whidbey’s and booked for a one-night stay.

“I’ll never forget driving up to it and thinking this is going to be a unique experience.”

She was right.

“I loved it,” Rowan recalled.

In 1998, she met her husband on a flight to Michigan. Rowan admits their romance would make a great “Lifetime” movie.

In 1999, she gave up her career and life in Marina Del Ray and moved to Salt lake City, Utah to be with her future husband. They were married in 2000 in Park City.

She introduced him to Whidbey Island in 2001, and they bought a house on First Street as an investment and rented it out. She remembers sitting in the real estate office looking at homes.

“I wasn’t particularly interested, because we weren’t going to live here. It was just an investment. I did see a house I liked, but was told there was an offer on it.”

The couple left the island and her husband encouraged her to call the Langley real estate agent to see if the other offer came through. It didn’t.

“So our offer was accepted,” she said.

Later that year on Sept. 11, 2001, they were in different parts of the country. They made the decision they didn’t want to be apart and unable to fly home again, so in 2002 they sold their 6,000 square foot home in Utah, and hit the road in a 300-square-foot RV.

The Rowans started out in a 27-foot model for a three-month trip and eventually traded up to a larger 36-foot one complete with a washer and dryer and all the comforts of home.

“We traveled for a year. It was so much fun. We didn’t have a plan. We just read the weather map in USA Today and stayed in the ‘yellow’ temperature range, 60 to 70 degrees,” she said.

After a year on the road, they decided to settle in their Langley home.

And that postcard of Langley Rowan bought so many years earlier? It pictures their home on First Street.

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