Lavrakas named chamber director

The Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center board reached within its ranks for a new executive director and has named board member Jim Lavrakas to succeed current director Monte Davis after Davis leaves Homer in mid-August. 

Lavrakas, 60, has been a chamber board member for three years.

“Jim is passionate about Homer and we are excited about moving forward with Jim at the helm,” board president Pat Melone said in a press release. “Although we had many applicants, Jim was indeed the best fit for this position, so it wasn’t a hard decision.”

Davis announced the appointment May 16 at a chamber mixer at Bald Mountain Air.

“With my experience on the board, and my strong belief in the chamber’s work, I’m really excited to get started,” Lavrakas said.

Davis at the mixer also announced the chamber has promoted membership manager Debbie Speakman to director of member relations, the second-most senior position on the chamber staff. The Lavrakas-Speakman team will bring cohesiveness to the chamber’s planning, outreach and action, the chamber said in its release.

A longtime Alaskan who moved to Homer in 2010 after retiring as a photojournalist for the Anchorage Daily News, Lavrakas first visited Homer in 1973. In 1978 Lavrakas started building a cabin on a 1-acre lot on Kasitsna Bay. His parents so loved the area that they also got a cabin in Little Tutka Bay.

Born and raised in Lowell, Mass., Lavrakas moved to Alaska for good in 1974. He worked as a ski bum at Alyeska Resort in Girdwood and a gandy dancer with the Alaska Railroad before starting his career as a photographer. 

Lavrakas did freelancing before landing a job first at the Anchorage Times and later at the Anchorage Daily News. He worked at the Daily News from 1981 to 2008. Through his publishing company, Far North Press, Lavrakas recently published a photographic memoir, “Snap Decisions,” based on his journalism experience. He continues working as a professional photographer.

After his wife, Ruth, finished her nursing degree at the University of Alaska Anchorage, they lived in Ketchikan for about a year, and then settled in Homer when Ruth started working in Long Term Care at South Peninsula Hospital. Lavrakas wrote a fishing blog for the Daily News, The Fishing Dude, and has a six-pack captain’s license and is a sport fishing guide through his business, Skookum Charters, and what he called his dream fishing boat, a 27-foot Bayweld boat, the Skookum.

Because many chamber members also own sport fishing charter businesses, Lavrakas and the chamber said he will close Skookum Charters before becoming executive director. Lavrakas has about 10 charters lined up this summer, mainly for lodges like Tutka Bay Lodge, and will complete those before he starts work Aug. 15.

He will continue his professional photography and publishing business. As a board volunteer, Lavrakas has donated his time photographing chamber and other civic events. He said he’ll continue doing so, but will step aside if the chamber feels photography services should be put out to bid.

Lavrakas said he supports the mission of the chamber in providing services to members and helping promote their businesses and making them successful. He also supports the community service of the chamber with events like the spring cleanup, winter carnival and the Fourth of July parade.

“We put on quite a few events in Homer where we don’t make money and don’t expect to,” Lavrakas said. “It improves the quality of life here.”

He said he also will continue the efforts started by Davis in his two years as executive director, including the Homer Shopping Derby, the Homer Bucks local currency and the revised Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby, with less of an emphasis on catching a record fish.

Initially, he will focus on learning the job, Lavrakas said.

“I think I need to get my feet underneath me,” he said. “Certainly I want to further Monte’s campaign to make the chamber more inclusive.”

That’s in reaction to a perception that the chamber has been mainly tourism oriented for charter and lodging businesses. Lavrakas said he agrees with Davis’ efforts to reach out to all businesses.

“I’m going to do a direct outreach and talk to businesses about what the chamber does for them already without their membership and what more we can do with them if we had them as members,” Lavrakas said.

He said the shopping derby and Homer Bucks are examples of ideas that help promote retail businesses and other services.

Over the summer and before Davis leaves, Lavrakas will volunteer his time working with Davis and chamber staff to learn about specific duties and how it’s run.

“I’ll be at the chamber learning the ropes and working to better understand the immediate issues I’ll need to focus on through the rest of the year,” he said. “This transition should be very smooth and efficient.”

Davis announced his resignation in March. He and his wife JoAnn are moving to the Dallas-Forth Worth, Texas, area to be close to her family.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at