Tina St. Aubin
Last year, in recognition of the city’s efforts to revitalize itself without raising taxes, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce named Valparaiso “Community of the Year.” Tina St. Aubin had something to do with that honor, the first for a Northwest Indiana town: As executive director of Valparaiso Community Festivals and Events, Inc. (VCFE) since 2008, St. Aubin has played a central role in ensuring that her city’s downtown remains attractive to families and businesses alike.
“Our goal is to continue to bring events to the community that everyone can support,” says St. Aubin, 37. “That’s what we do. If we can help businesses to succeed, that’s even better.”
As a lifelong resident of Valparaiso and member of a family of small business owners, St. Aubin would seem to offer the perfect blend of community passion and practical knowledge. “We do events that can help business be successful,” says St. Aubin, who has worked as operations manager at Duffy’s Place, the Valparaiso bar and restaurant her husband owns. “I understand their challenges; I understand the risks that they’ve taken.”
Formed in 1999, VCFE is dedicated to improving Valparaiso’s retail environment, initiating cooperative efforts and providing family-oriented recreational events. In practice, that means St. Aubin spends much of her time working closely with city officials and VCFE’s board of directors to plan and oversee a variety of annual events, many of which are familiar to Valparaiso residents. These include the long-running Popcorn Festival (Orville Redenbacher resided in Valparaiso), this year’s inaugural Valpo Brewfest, the Fall Harvest Festival and the VCFE Concert Series, which is a fundraiser for the organization. (VCFE is partly funded by the city, but it is an independent nonprofit.)
The concert series takes place in Valparaiso University Chapel, a result of VCFE’s partnership with the university, which began last year. “Everyone I work with at VU is great, I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” she says. “To see performances in the chapel is amazing.” This fall’s concert will feature Canadian Brass, a quintet that performs Baroque-era classical pieces.
TINA ST. AUBIN
Festivals and Events, Inc.
162 W Lincolnway, Valparaiso, Ind.
VCFE has only two full-time employees, so St. Aubin relies on the generosity of volunteers to put on events. This year’s Popcorn Festival, which featured a five-mile walk-run, a parade and local vendor selling food and arts and crafts, is the result of 300 hard-working Valparaiso residents. “We could never be as successful without them,” she says. “They are wonderful people.”
In addition to overseeing small armies of community volunteers as VCFE director, St. Aubin—formerly the special events coordinator for the Greater Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce—is also Valparaiso’s first special events director. That position, created as part of Mayor Jon Costa’s strategic plan to draw more people to the city’s downtown, overlaps greatly with her VCFE post.
“I look to [VCFE board members and city officials] for their guidance,” St. Aubin says. “Everybody that I meet—the mayor, the city administrator, volunteers—somehow they push and inspire me to continue on the path that we started two and a half years ago to bring something new to the community.
“I’m blessed . . . My imagination can never be too big for my employers.”
Debbie Anselm, an old friend of St. Aubin’s who lives in Valparaiso and volunteers at the Popcorn Festival, says St. Aubin’s commitment to community and quality is what sets her apart. And she excels at forging new partnerships with community members. “She’s always one to embrace new ideas,” says Anselm, who works for the Northwest Indiana Times company, which has partnered with VCFE. “She’s a catalyst for pulling people together and getting things moving. You don’t hit a brick a wall when you go to Tina’s office. It’s more like a bridge.”
St. Aubin, who has served on the board of directors of Hilltop Neighborhood House and volunteered in the Valparaiso school system, believes the city’s downtown area is looking better than ever, thanks to new streetscapes and grants to small businesses for façade refurbishments. “It’s remarkable what’s been done,” she says. “Downtown has only changed for the good. You’re always smiling and saying hello to someone you know. This is certainly home.”
What St. Aubin loves most about her VCFE work is collaboration. “It’s the people that I work with. Everybody’s working together to make the community the best it can be. You never know what tomorrow is going to hold. That’s the fun part.”