Joan Verplanck: DSCC Second Female President and CEO
A Rosie outlook: Verplanck brings fresh ideas to Delaware.
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“I’d be more worried about that if she had no experience,” says Burris, president of the chamber from 1990 to 2000. “But she’s a pro. Even though it might take
her longer to get acclimated, she has the tools to overcome it.” As president of four other chambers, she likely has the chops.
Yet Verplanck didn’t dream of a career in business while growing up in the Motor City. “I never had a plan for things,” she says. “I was sort of loose.”
That’s not to say she lacked motivation. She’s long admired Rosie the Riveter, the cultural icon who represented female factory workers in a government film during World War II. “She is one can-do gal,” says Verplanck, her Michigan accent making an appearance. “It never occurred to me that there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do.”
Rosie made her first appearance in the Willow Run Bomber Plant in Detroit, and when Verplanck was growing up in the post-war baby boom, the city’s plants were still buzzing, office buildings were full and city schools were so packed that portable classrooms were needed. The so-called “white flight” to the suburbs had yet to come.
Her father was a foreman in a tool-and-die shop. Her mother stayed at home. The family was Catholic, and on Fridays, Verplanck and her two older siblings gathered around the dinner table for egg noodles tossed with cottage cheese. “It looked disgusting, but it was actually pretty good,” Verplanck says. She preferred smelts, lightly floured and fried crisp. “It’s still my favorite.” (She’s yet to try our local version.)
Given her willowy height—she’s 5-foot-11-inches—it’s not surprising that she played basketball. However, she was more of a girly girl. Fashion, she admits, remains her greatest extravagance. She went on a diet because her clothes are too expensive to replace, she says.
At Wayne State University in Detroit, she majored in English. So did her husband-to-be, an ex-military man with two children from a previous marriage. When he got a job in publishing, they married and moved to Boston. “In those days, you didn’t follow a man unless you were married,” she says. By day, she worked as an administrative assistant at Harvard University. By night they went out on the town.
They had their daughter Marcy after moving to Rhode Island. When a car accident left her husband’s ex-wife paralyzed from the chest down, his two children came to live with them. “I was 24 or 25 with an infant, third-grader and fifth-grader,” recalls Verplanck, who would later give birth to daughters Michelle and Gretchen.
After Gretchen started school, Verplanck landed a temporary job at the North Kingstown Chamber of Commerce. The board had fired both the executive director and his secretary and needed someone to manage the office.