Celebrating her 30th anniversary as a self-proclaimed ambassador for Waupaca County, Sue Parmelee could certainly say she’s been around the block a few times.
With 19 years as a Welcome Wagon Hostess and another 16 with her own business called Country Welcome, Parmelee has made it her personal mission to open the doors of the county to new residents, newly-engaged couples and new parents.
Oct. 5, 1980 was her first visit to a home in Waupaca County, equipped with a basketful of information and gifts for new homeowners.
Her now longtime friend, Brenda Hansen had introduced her to the job
, confident Parmelee had the ‘right stuff’ to be successful. “I was so upset with myself when I got home,” recalls Parmelee. “I tried to memorize everything I gave them and made a mess of it. I had to go back and apologize to them.”
She persevered, used notes and soon she had a routine established. “I wanted a flexible schedule so I could raise my young family, and eventually the kids even helped fill my baskets for me. They knew mom had to get her work done before we could go do something together.”
Parmelee got so good at her presentations and people skills that in 1985 she was named the No. 1 Welcome Wagon Hostess in the nation, chosen from more than 9,000 hostesses.
“That was really something,” she recalls.
Then, in her 19th year with Welcome Wagon she was fired on a conference call, along with others. “It was quite a shock really. We were all out, just like that. They decided to do mail order instead.”
Parmelee, a former paralegal with an associate’s degree in accounting and business law, set up her own business to fill the void that Welcome Wagon left.
“My customers wanted me to keep going. They were enjoying a 35 percent return on my work and I was happy to oblige,” she said.
With her new found freedom, Parmelee could now cater to churches, something she couldn’t do under the Welcome Wagon umbrella. She also invented an alternate welcome basket for new parents. Her ‘Baby Call’ basket includes bibs, pediatrician information, support groups, library, church, and preschool pamphlets, anything to do with babies and toddlers.
A few things have changed over the years. With the advent of cell phones, Parmelee finds it more challenging to contact people by telephone. “Sometimes I just show up, because I don’t have a number to call, and I either reschedule with them or they let me in. It usually works out, it’s just an adjustment.”
Nothing seems to ruffle Parmelee nowadays. She can fly through a stack of coupons to find a particular item in no time. She knows the inside and the outside of every business from Iola or Waupaca to New London and from Marion to Fremont.
One goal she sets for herself is to show people how much there is to enjoy here, and, she says, it’s not hard to do. From meat markets and specialty shops to walking trails and recreation on the rivers, she says the list is endless. “I just love helping people,” says Parmelee. “It’s a very interesting occupation. You can find a connection with anyone if you talk to them long enough.”
She will travel to Phoenix this month to exchange ideas at a Welcome Services International convention where independent hostesses from the United States and England compare notes, share ideas and ramp up for another year in business. She will become president of the group this year.
Besides, her Country Welcome business, Parmelee is also the president of Waupaca Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors. Her husband Glen retired from teaching at Waupaca schools two years ago, and helps her with the baskets.
“I can’t believe the support I’ve received over the years. What started as a part time job to keep myself occupied while the kids were in school has blossomed into this 30 year experience.”
What’s the most popular item Parmelee carries in her baskets? “Maps – everyone loves a good road map.”
To arrange a visit from Parmelee, go to ww.countrywelcome.com.