Local Profile | Diane Probst, Rockport-Fulton Chamber of Commerce President/CEO

I grew up a small town girl, born in Bryan, Texas. I was raised by a mother and father who worked hard for their money. We were middle class. I have two sisters, one, two years older than me, and one eight years younger. My parents never once did not provide us with what we needed. When I needed a car, I got it, but I also had to work hard to pay for my part.

I did not move into a dorm or apartment during my college years. I lived at home to save on room and board until I graduated. 

I always envied my classmates who were given the “true college experience,” but at the same time, I am forever grateful for what I did receive. I graduated with a Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing from Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. The campus was just 20-minutes from my childhood home.

I remember observing people and being amazed at their lives, at what they had accomplished, and from where they had come. I remember asking myself, “What is their story”?

I was born with a head of very curly hair. So curly, it compromised several levels of my confidence. My hair was “different” from all the pretty girls at school. In the 70s and 80s, it just wasn’t cool to have curly hair. It seemed, the popular girls, were the ones with straight hair.

However, I found something that gave me the attention I so desired. In the eighth grade, I found a confidence booster. I became obsessed with twirling a baton. I found myself twirling day and night, on the driveway, in the house, on the back porch, and in my room. I became very good at it. My parents made sure I received twirling lessons and were supportive of my attending University Interscholastic League (UIL) competitions at most of which I generally earned “1” ratings (the highest). I would receive so many compliments and positive encouragement from just about anyone for which I performed. This positive force made me drive to do the best that I could.

Then a very dreadful day came when junior high twirling tryouts were held. I could “out twirl” anyone, but I could not dance to the beat of the music. I was the best “twirler” in the tryouts, but had not learned how to dance and twirl to the beat of the music. I did not make the twirling line. This devastated me. I thought my world had ended. Everything I had dreamed of was gone. Twirling was all I knew.

As it turned out, the band director felt so bad she let me join the line later in the year. I managed to learn to twirl to the beat of the music and made “twirler” every tryout thereafter through high school. I also became a certified twirling instructor and taught lessons aspiring twirlers of all ages until I was 25. I had taken on the challenge of twirling, mastered it and became a certified instructor. I even taught twirling after I was married. That was unheard of at the time.

In addition to being a twirling instructor, I worked in sales, becoming a top salesperson, and working up to management.  I also worked my way up to the highest level student worker in a classroom production and communication lab.

I remember always wanting to learn as much as I could. Never afraid of working my way to the top, I was always a dedicated, dependable employee with a work ethic employers would drool over today. I worked during college, many hours at a “real” job, and also worked with a twirling student three to four nights a week, and on Saturdays.

After college, I began my career at Dillard’s Department Store in College Station, Texas. I was hired to manage the lingerie department, and was later, promoted to Personnel Trainer/Event Coordinator/Ad Director. It was a very high profile job. Every “new hire” had to go through me to get properly trained. My intercom page code was “2-1” or “21”. You would hear it all the time. It was a challenge to simultaneously train employees, set up for a fashion show, and approve ads for the local newspaper. Something came over me when I would hear “21 to the so-in-so department”. I knew I was needed. I was important. Unfortunately, the position required long hours, as all retail jobs do, and the pay was measly for the amount of work involved.

One evening, we were late in getting an advertisement for the Brenham Banner Press, a nearby newspaper. A tall, energetic, nice looking, fun loving man came to pick up the advertisement. Little did he know, he was picking up an ad from his bride to be! That night he offered me an advertising sales position at his newspaper in Brenham, Texas. I accepted and moved into an apartment there, a mere 40-minutes from my childhood home.

Eighteen months later we were married and I moved to Rockport, Texas, four hours south of my childhood home. My husband landed the editor and publisher job at The Rockport Pilot newspaper at the young age of 24. At first, I played the role of a supportive wife. I would worry about where I would work later.

My first job in Rockport was as a teller at a local bank. Then I went to work at the newspaper. I could work for my husband in many different areas at the newspaper because of my previous experience, and my willingness to learn.

In 1990 the Rockport-Fulton Chamber of Commerce was searching for a new executive director. We had two small children at the time. Our youngest child was 18-months old. I was one of 54 applicants. I remember making it to the top five and having growing confidence during those final interviews. I knew I could do well in this position, if given the chance, and bring a lot to our communities.

I got the job in September 1990.

I didn’t let grass grow under my feet. I attended my first week of Institute for Chamber Management at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas nine months later. It was a big deal for me to attend a week-long conference with very small children back at home. I still remember leaving my husband and two crying babies in his arms at the airport. I had and still have a very supportive husband.  I loved learning and growing until graduation six years later. Today, more than 23 years later, I am the President/CEO at that same Chamber. That is something almost unheard of in the industry.

Thank you so much, Diane,  for sharing a little bit about your journey with us in the Network!

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