By Christine Bryant
What started as a part-time job has turned into a labor of love for Mary Hudson.
Hudson and the Reynoldsburg Visitors Bureau are wrapping up its 25th year, and the director says she’s proud of the work the bureau has done to help put the city on an international map.
Sitting in her office located in the historic Livingston House on Graham Road, Hudson has a variety of promotional materials, plans, page proofs and other projects scattered across her desk.
Activities held throughout the year are never too far away to start planning, and though she is focused on upcoming tournaments and activities to be held in Reynoldsburg, the Tomato Festival and other events in 2016 are not far from her mind.
It’s her role to juggle promoting the many activities that happen year-round in the city, as well as be the liaison to several boards and organizations in Reynoldsburg and the central Ohio region. This includes working together with other visitors bureaus, including Experience Columbus, to ensure large events aren’t planned on the same weekend and to reap the benefits when other communities have large special events that attract thousands from out of town.
“People don’t realize when Columbus has huge events in town like the ‘Arnold,’ our hotels are full,” she said. “By working together, it helps tremendously.”
City officials first approached Hudson about taking over the newly formed visitors bureau in 1990. Though paid for by the hotel bed tax that’s funneled through the city, the bureau is not a department in city government, but instead a not-for-profit.
“In 1989, the state of Ohio had just enacted a bed tax, and the city and chamber got together and said ‘Let’s open a bureau,’” Hudson said.
A friend who also served on city council approached Hudson, who was a stay-at-home mom at the time. Her position began part-time, but after about five years, it morphed into a full-time position as demands increased.
The visitors bureau, over the years, was housed at a handful of locations, from city hall to downtown Reynoldsburg, but three years ago moved into the Livingston House. The move was a win for both the bureau and the city, which owns the building but did not have a person present to greet visitors.
“It was often closed, but now it’s open with our office here,” Hudson said.
During the holiday season, when the Livingston House is decorated for the holidays, visitors often will stop by when they see a car in the parking lot. During the past three years, she said she’s had more than 200 groups alone drop by to learn more about the historic home and see the period decorations.
Though located in a historic home, the bureau has turned into an essential piece to promoting tourism and businesses in the city of Reynoldsburg so that the city’s future is bright.
“I’ve had the pleasure of working with Mary on many events and activities over the years and I admire her tireless dedication to the city we call home,” said Mayor Brad McCloud. “She has spent countless hours in service to the city and her efforts have made a positive impact.”
Working with the Reynoldsburg Community Association, in which a representative from the visitors bureau holds a permanent position, Hudson has been instrumental in planning events like Christmas on the Towne, July 4 festivities and the community Halloween celebration.
The visitors bureau’s collaboration with community organizations like the RCA is also bringing a new event to the city this year – a bicycle tour planned for July 30 as a warm-up for Pelotonia in which Mt. Carmel Hospital will serve as a sponsor, Hudson said. The event, which is still in the works, will be family-friendly and will include a 15- to 20-mile tour of the city.
“We’re always trying to come up with different events,” she said.
Even old events have seen new changes, however. Hudson began helping organize the Reynoldsburg Tomato Festival – a long-time staple of the community – about five years ago, turning it into an official nonprofit organization.
In addition to working with publications like “Ohio Magazine” to promote the city, Hudson also is often the first contact for groups visiting for the first time.
Earlier this year, she received a call from a woman organizing a bike ride from Iowa to the east coast. She was looking for a place to camp along the way for the group of riders, and Hudson arranged with Vineyard Community Church a place for them to stay on the church’s property.
“They just loved it,” Hudson said. “She saw the visitors bureau’s number and knew we could help.”
At 67, Hudson isn’t ready to step down, citing how the visitors bureau has become a part of her life and how there’s more work to be done.
“Everyone keeps asking me, but I’m not ready to retire yet,” she said. “I love it too much.”