Monday, January 11, 2016

Profile of MCC President Nancy Ploeger: In Search of Dirt and a Kit Kat

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By David Williams

For the past 21 years, Nancy Ploeger has been president of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce. Since joining the chamber in 1994 as the executive director, Nancy has represented the business community on a wide range of critical issues, most notably those involving health insurance, MWBE certification, government procurement, small businesses globalization, diversity and business resources for services sectors, among other issues. In February, Nancy is leaving her position at the chamber to take over at the wheel at an organization co-founded by the Chamber, International Women’s Entrepreneurial Challenge.

Mileage covered: 1.3 miles

Overcast, unseasonably 59 degrees

Central Casting’s idea of what makes a great Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive – someone possessed with effortless boosterism, a lack of apparent guile and an ample reservoir of energy and bonhomie – Nancy Ploeger, President of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, and I are meeting to go about her rounds late one recent Friday afternoon.

We join each other beneath her apartment building awning on East 88th Street, between First and Second.

“So, where are we headed?” I ask as Nancy and I walk west, pushing her empty shopping cart that, clearly, has a lot of mileage on it.

“We’re headed to Wankels. It’s about 97 years old, one of the few hardware stores left in the area. We’re going to be buying some dirt because we’re planting bulbs tomorrow in Ruppert Park,” she tells me.

Like many New Yorkers (myself included) Nancy has caught the adopt-a-NYC-park bug. And she’s starting from the ground up. Literally.

“All the soil in the park has worn away and all that’s left is concrete. I want to get some potting soil so the bulbs will have a chance to live.”

Saint Louis born, Nancy has (Central Casting again) all the zest for living in her adopted city that only a true transplant possesses. The recipient of countless community and city accolades, Nancy would be a five star NYC general. If there were such a thing.

“My first apartment was on East 90th Street. Then I moved to 88th between First and York for a year. Then my current place, since 1973. It’s a great prewar building.”

At the Second Avenue crosswalk Nancy and I run into Rick, whom Nancy has known for years. Informing me that he was born in her building two-plus generations ago, Nancy is corrected.

“No, Doctor’s Hospital,” Rick reminds her as he peels off to continue his own Friday rounds.

“Many of the people have lived in my building a long time,” she continues. “But we have a lot of new people. Families with kids. And we have a BEAUTIFUL (all caps) laundry room, with a TV you can watch while your laundry is being done.”

I tell Nancy that she lives on a nice looking block. Great, mature trees. And the church…

“What makes the block is the church (Church of the Holy Trinity). The garden out front is one of my favorite places. You can just go in, sit on a bench and read a book,” she notes. It’s an active church with a homeless program. A few people spend the night there and then are out at 6:00 in the morning.

“Plus, they have a search and care program for the elderly, and a day care center for kids.”

But enough of the church’s role in the community. It’s now time to load up on some good mother earth at Wankels for Nancy to do her own important work in Ruppert Park. On our way, we swing by yet another park Nancy has adopted. A small, “pocket” park adjacent to a high-rise. “This park actually belongs to 200 East 87th. The owners were able to add extra height to the building if they added the park. For the first seven years they planted and cared for it but after then the homeless and others kept digging up the plants. And they got tired of spending all the money.

“So now all they do is pick up the garbage and keep the water fountain working.”

While she is doing all the heavy motivational lifting, her cause is being aided and abetted by a local church group that wants to do the gardening. They plan to put in bushes and a few trees. Nothing that is easy to dig up and spirit away.

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