A newsmaker you should know: New Butler County tourism chairman turns dreams into successful programs

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It makes good sense that Rodney Schaffer was recently named the new chairman of the Butler County Tourism & Convention Bureau board of directors. The 54-year-old has spent his entire life and career in Butler County, raised his two daughters there and is devoted to creating awareness and tourism opportunities in his hometown region.

“I grew up in Zelienople and lived in Butler County all of my life — I am a Butler County boy through-and-through,” he said.

Mr. Schaffer has served on the board of directors of the bureau since 2009, most recently as the vice chair. He assumed the role of chairman when Jackie Gillespie-Ralston resigned to accept a new position in Pittsburgh.

Mr. Schaffer became interested in volunteering with the bureau after his uncle, Martin Marburger, suggested it.

“They were working on developing the agricultural aspects of visiting our area and Uncle Martin thought I should be involved,” Mr. Schaffer said.

The interest blended perfectly with Mr. Schaffer’s career. He is the director of technical services at Con Yeager Spice Co., a commercial spice company in Zelienople.

“I started there 31 years ago and have learned the business from the ground up. I think I have done almost everything here,” he said.

When Mr. Schaffer started at Con Yeager, he was the fifth employee. Today, they have nearly 70 employees.

The role of the board, according to Mr. Schaffer, is to help guide the efforts of the bureau to attract visitors and businesses to Butler County. The agriculture component to tourism is important to Butler County, Mr. Schaffer said.

“We looked at it and said, ‘Does our agriculture industry bring tourist to Butler?’ and the answer was ‘Yes,’” he said.

Mr. Schaffer listed those businesses that attract visitors, including local wineries, vegetable and dairy farmers, alpaca farms, butchers and meat shops, and the farms.

“We’ve created the barn tour, for example, to bring people here to see what beautiful barns we have in the area,” he said.

Mr. Schaffer said the past 30 years have brought great changes in Butler County — many of them in the food and agriculture industry.

“We’ve had bakeries and restaurants go away, and now they are coming back, which is great,” he said.

Mr. Schaffer and his wife, Terri, recently visited the younger of their two daughters, Gracie, who is a chef at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C. During that visit, he saw some ideas that he hopes to bring to Butler County.

“They had a beer trail and a cheese trail. We are working on a food trail right now — I think these are good ideas for us,” he said.

Jack Cohen, president of the bureau, likes Mr. Schaffer’s ideas.

“Rodney is a natural born leader who understands the importance of tourism in our county,” Mr. Cohen said.

“He will help lead the bureau into the future — he directs our agritourism group and has several marketing initiatives that we hope to execute over the next several months,” he added.

Serving on the board of 12 members is something Mr. Schaffer enjoys.

“The beauty of our board is the composition — we have 12 members representing 12 different industries with 12 different dreams. Each person knows what works and what doesn’t work in their industry,” he said.

The dreams, Mr. Schaffer said, don’t always come through, but many of their successful programs in Butler County have started as dreams.

“Look at our Jeep Festival. No one ever dreamed that would be so successful and it grows each year,” he said.

Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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