Beyond the Chamber

Janice Bullman’s  zeal for community helps her focus on future

By Glenda Winders 

Janice Bullman self-identifies as a “farm girl.” She still lives on the land just south of Bargersville that her great-great-grandparents settled and where they are buried. She loves animals and nature and has owned and ridden horses since childhood. So, yes, she is a farm girl, but she is also many other things to many other people.

For the past three years, Bullman has been the executive director of the Franklin Chamber of Commerce. At times it seems life experiences and the people we meet along the way  groom us for our jobs; such is definitely the case for Bullman. She credits her parents with getting her off to a good start.

“My sister and I were very fortunate,” she says. “Our parents never said, ‘You’re a girl so you can’t do that.’”

In fact, her father bought a hay baler that made smaller bales so the girls could handle them, and when they started showing sheep and earning prize money, no one was surprised. They were just teenagers, but they raised enough money to help their parents put a down payment on a second farm.

“My dad raised two strong, independent women,” she says. “It’s hard now for someone to tell me I can’t do something because I don’t understand why not.”

When Bullman’s three children were young, she and her husband bought a retail business where they sold Western clothing and jewelry, saddles and animal feed, an experience that she said helped prepare her for her current position.

“Maybe that’s why I have such an appreciation now for small businesses and entrepreneurs,” she says. “With a small business you are the bookkeeper, sales rep, buyer, marketing person and IT person. When a new business opens, I have a keen understanding of what they are trying to do.”

When her husband took a job that required him to travel, Bullman frequently was in charge of the business, the farm and her children on her own. She made a playroom for her son and two daughters in the back of the store and kept going.

As the children’s lives became more hectic, however, the Bullmans decided to sell their store. After a stint of working and studying at Franklin College, she took another job that would serve as a step on the path to her future career, this time at the Adult and Child Mental Health Center, where she worked at two offices in Franklin and one in southern Marion County. This was the first of several positions that would enable her to help other people; it’s a thread that has been woven throughout her entire career.  During the 13 years she was at the Adult and Child Mental Health Center, she worked as the community relations coordinator and helped start its volunteer program.

She moved on to become the director of operations at the Shelby County Chamber of Commerce, a position she held for three years. There she had a mentor who taught her to write grants and deal with a nonprofit budget. This led to an opportunity to serve as executive director of a nonprofit family service organization in Bartholomew County; she held the role for the next 13 years.

“I realized I was able to make a difference by creating an environment for good work to be done by the direct service workers — the therapists, the social workers and psychologists,” she says. “I realized I didn’t need to touch a client to make a difference in his life, and that was a very satisfying feeling.”

When Bullman felt she had done all she could do at the nonprofit, she moved on to a position with the Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts. The project was funded by a three-year grant, during which she traveled around the state helping districts develop their resources. In this position she was able to share what she had learned over the years in a way that she says helped other organizations do their best work.

By the time the grant ended, Bullman’s mother was in her 90s and needed care, and one of her granddaughters had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. This time, the people she helped were her own family.

“Family is what’s really important to me. That’s my heart,” she says. “It’s one of the most important things we can think about and work toward and secure and nurture. It was a gift that I had the time to be able to give my family. I cherish that.”

During that time, her mother read in the Daily Journal that the executive director of the Franklin Chamber of Commerce was leaving, and she encouraged Bullman to apply for the job. Not long after that, Bullman’s mother passed away. Her granddaughter’s health improved, so when she got the call offering her the job, she took it.

“I love what I do, probably because no two days are exactly alike,” she says.

On any given day she might be meeting with chamber members, attending a committee meeting to plan a program or a golf outing to bring members together, or cutting a ribbon as a new business opens. Once again, she enjoys the supporting role.

“We provide programs and services and resources to chamber members that will help them be successful,” she says.

Bob Heuchan is president of Mutual Savings Bank, a longtime chamber member. He has served on the chamber board and was president for a year. He calls Bullman “delightful and personable, one of those people you are glad to be around.”

“I have an appreciation for the challenges she faces each day in her job,” he says. “The first time I saw her at a chamber function I understood why she was the one selected for the position.”

Currently Bullman is hard at work on two projects about which she is very excited. One is a fundraiser called “Biz Bash,” an event in September that will showcase local businesses at the recently renovated Garment Factory in Franklin. Chamber members will have booths where they can distribute information and give demonstrations. Hospitals will be able to do simple screenings, and food and beverage businesses can offer samples of their specialties.

“I’m thrilled to be able to do this,” Bullman says. “People can see what amazing companies and businesses we have. We want to reach southern Marion County and all of our doughnut counties and let them know if they want to do business in Johnson County, we will help market, promote and connect them.”

Her other project is the establishment of the Johnson County Visitors and Tourism site, festivalcountryindiana.com.

“We want to let people see all of the amazing features and amenities we have here. Tourism is a huge economic driver,” she says. “We have all these little towns that are developing their own uniqueness, such as Bargersville, Edinburgh, Franklin. We’re looking at all the different ways we can promote Johnson County.”

Tandy Shuck is executive director of Leadership Johnson County at Franklin College and current president of the chamber’s board.

“We are so very fortunate to have someone with Janice’s professional skills, talents and enthusiasm to lead our organization,” she says. “She has a passion for business and for Franklin that is contagious.”

Bullman says she and her husband of 56 years, Fred, have never considered leaving Johnson County.

“When you talk about roots, I have really deep roots,” she says. “I have a love for my home, for my community, this county.”

She said she especially likes Franklin because it is a planned community that looks to the future.

“I love being a part of looking at long-range plans and thinking what it will be like 10 or 20 years down the road,” she says. “I won’t be here, but my family will be and others will be, so I want to make sure that plans are in place to take care of the growth and development and that it’s all put together with purpose and not just willy-nilly.”

Bullman says she prefers the term “transition” to “retirement,” and she’s not ready for either any time soon. “When my very best isn’t adequate anymore, that’s when I’ll think about a transition,” she says.

Photography by Angela Jackson