Chamber's interim director brings skills

Chamber of Commerce interim Executive Director Kristine Thalman finds working and living in her hometown exhilarating, if a little demanding.

"You have a vested interest," said Thalman, who has headed the chamber staff since last September. "It is interesting and fun, but you never stop working."

Her work has impressed chamber officials, and they have extended her contract for another six months, said Michael Kinsman, chamber board president.

"We are in relatively sound financial position, but we are changing the direction of the chamber," he said. "We are in outreach mode to the business community to demonstrate the value of the chamber. Kris will help us reach our goals."

Thalman previously was chief executive officer of the Building Industry Assn. (BIA) of Orange County. Before that she worked for KB Home from 2000 to 2004 as local government affairs director, and from 1985 to 2000 as economic development/intergovernmental affairs officer for Anaheim.

However, working where she lives is a new experience.

Thalman moved to Laguna Beach from Chino Hills in 2005, still recovering from the death of her husband of 25 years, prominent Inland Empire politician James Thalman, in August 2003.

He was serving as mayor of Chino Hills when he became ill and had been elected to the City Council since Chino Hills incorporated in 1991, which he helped achieve. The Chino Hills library is named for him.

Thalman took a leave of absence from KB Home when her husband was ill but was advised to return to work after her husband died, which she did a month later.

Soon after, she was recruited to apply for the BIA job.

"I didn't think I had a chance in hell of getting it," Thalman said. "First, there were 60 of us. Then, 25, then 10. When it got down to five, I thought I had better take it seriously — it was a new chapter in my life."

BIA officials encouraged her to move to Orange County, rather than make the daily commute from Chino Hills to Irvine.

"First I looked in Seal Beach, which is near where my daughter lives, but when I walked up Forest Avenue to Glenneyre, it just felt like home," Thalman said.

She found a cottage she loves — small, but the right size for a single woman, she said.

Shortly after her move, Thalman was contacted by then-Mayor Elizabeth Pearson, who was coping with the Bluebird Canyon landslide.

"I called her and asked if the builders could help," Pearson said.

The better Pearson got to know Thalman, the more she tried to rope her new-found friend into any group in which she was involved, including the South Coast Medical Center Foundation board and Laguna Beach Seniors Inc.

Thalman said her association with Pearson and with women to whom Pearson introduced her helped her through the dark time when she was adjusting to life as a widow, and to her new job.

Pearson and former Laguna Beach mayors Kathleen Blackburn and Cheryl Kinsman were among the guests invited to the party hosted by the Irvine Co. when Thalman retired from the BIA.

Complimentary speakers included former Anaheim Mayor and Speaker of the State Assembly Curt Pringle, Orange County Supervisor Bill Campbell and Assemblywoman Diane Harkey.

"You are a lady to be admired," Harkey said to Thalman.

Thalman was recognized as one of the most influential people in Orange County in 2007 by Red County; named one of four women leaders by OC Metro and Visionary of the Year by Coastline Community College in 2006; and was presented with a special award for achievement by the League of California Cities.

She is a California native, born in Montebello. She earned a bachelor's degree in public administration from the University of La Verne. Her first job was ad taker and private branch exchange (PBX) operator for the Tribune Gazette in East Los Angeles.

She said the worst job in her varied career was as an Avon Lady, at which she never earned a cent.

Thalman has two children by her first marriage, four stepchildren and seven grandchildren she shared with Jim Thalman.

And a hometown she loves and a job that doesn't quit.

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