After 16 years as Executive Director of the Harvey County Economic Development Council Mickey Fornaro-Dean has left her mark on Newton and Harvey County. Through the HCEDC, which collaborates with local businesses and municipalities to stimulate growth, she has led a proactive effort to promote grow the local economy. For over a decade Fornaro-Dean has captained the ship and has become one of most highly respected representatives of Harvey County.
Born in Durham, North Carolina, the only child of Brenda and Mike Fornaro, she would grow up in Kansas, Ohio and North Carolina. ?I kind of grew up everywhere,? says Dean. Her grandparents were a huge part of her upbringing. After her father took a job in Kansas, she would divide her summer break between her fraternal grandparents in Ohio and her maternal grandparents in North Carolina. Fornaro-Dean jokes that, despite her grandmother?s warning, ?My mother married a Yankee.?
In addition to the time spent with her grandparents, she was her travel agent mother?s ?preferred travel partner? and was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to destinations all over the world.
After graduating from Ottawa High School, she headed to Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky. She had done a lot of research while in high school to find a school that would be the right fit and while she loved the small private school, it was located in a dense urban area with a lot of crime. She found the environment ?too constrictive? for a girl who grew up in the Kansas countryside, and after one year, transferred to Kansas State University where she earned a BA with a major in public relations and a minor in political science.
She had given some thought to the possibility of attending law school but instead took a job at a radio station where she worked in advertising and graphic design. She enjoyed the work but when the radio station closed down she was out of a job.
A job in retail followed, thanks to a family connection. She started working at a Maurice?s clothing store in southern Kansas and had been promoted to manager in just 9 short months. She would eventually be promoted to the position of ?Training Manager? and had responsibility for managing two stores. She enjoyed the retail business, but after several years, the long hours and travel started to cause burn out.
In 1994, she was offered a job that would change her career path permanently. While living in Winfield she had become very involved with the local Chamber of Commerce and the community. That summer the local Chamber Director resigned and a friend who worked for the chamber asked her about applying for the position. She was reluctant. ?I had a vacation planned with my mother ? it was just bad timing,? says Fornaro-Dean. But the friend was persistent and she ended up applying for the job. Nearly 200 individuals applied for the position but, the Chamber saw something in her and she received a job offer.
When Fornaro-Dean took over the chamber, the organization was $42,000 in the red. ?I thought – oh heavens what did I get myself into.? By December they had made real progress and the Chamber was $9.93 in the black. To this day Fornaro-Dean says the turnaround they were able to make in those short six months is ?one of my proudest accomplishments.? She settled in at the chamber and found that she ?loved economic development.? She would spend four years with the Winfield Chamber but was ready for a change and when the job with Harvey County opened up in 1998 she jumped at the opportunity. She would move to Halstead and take the reins at the Harvey County Economic Development Council where she has been there ever since.
She married Jere Dean on October 30, 1999. The two had been good friends in Winfield but they had never dated. Not long after she moved to Halstead he ?called out of the blue,? to check on her. He asked her if she would like to go to dinner, she said ?yes,? and they have been together ever since. Jere Dean serves as a City Council Member in Halstead. The couple lives at the old Warkentine farmstead just north of downtown Halstead. The historic home and barns are a labor of love for the pair. ?We call it our hysterical historical money pit,? says Fornaro-Dean. They try to do a major project on either the house or the barn every year. Their next project is the wrap around porch on the house. The Deans have tried to do their part to share the historic property with the community.
They love sharing the farm with their animals; Mickey Dean grew up with horses and they continue to be an important part of her life. ?The animals are our passion,? she says. They also enjoy entertaining their five grandchildren at the farm. And the Deans have traveled from Austin to Wyoming to compete in chuck-wagon cooking competitions, something they thoroughly enjoy.
Mickey Fornaro-Dean attributes much of her success to the strength she inherited from her family. ?I was a grandpas girl. Both my grandfathers were very business oriented.?
She also gives a lot of credit her mother, Brenda Fornaro who has been an amazing example of strength. Five years ago they lost her father, Mike Fornaro, to an automobile accident. For such a close family this loss was extremely difficult. He died shortly before what would have been the Fornaro?s 50th wedding anniversary. Watching the way her mother has dealt with the loss and remained a strong independent woman gives Fornaro-Dean inspiration. ?A lot of my drive comes from that,? she says.
As she enters her 16th year in Harvey County, Fornaro-Dean looks forward to the future. ?I?m very proud to work for the Harvey County Economic Development Council for a lot of reasons.? Her work with the county and all seven cities has given her a great deal of professional satisfaction. She likes a quote from Winston Churchill, ?It is always wise to look ahead, but difficult to look further than you can see.? In Harvey County she sees a good amount of ?pro-active economic development,? and she looks forward to great things in the future.
by Kelley DeGraffenreid