Clara Ehrhart has a passion for music and volunteering. Both are a big part of her life.
Ehrhart, 24, has been singing in choirs since the sixth grade. At Quincy High School, she said, "I was pretty much in every choir group there was." She also sang in Illinois Wesleyan University's choir for four years and is now a member of the Quincy Symphony Chorus.
Those musical experiences have meant a lot to Ehrhart, so she's now giving back through her volunteer efforts. For example, she helps the QHS Music Department whenever she can, and she's a member of Encore! -- the Quincy Symphony Orchestra Association's volunteer council. Ehrhart also does volunteer work for the Quincy Community Theatre, United Way of Adams County and other organizations.
As a trust officer at Mercantile Bank, Ehrhart is encouraged to become involved in the community. So she serves on the boards of Sunset Home and the Michelmann Foundation, the charitable arm of Michelmann Steel Construction Co. -- a business headed by her mother, who has been an inspirational role model for Ehrhart.
"I try to be as involved as possible," she said.
"My family has been in this town for six generations, so it feels kind of like a responsibility to make sure that it has a future. I think the best way to ensure that is to participate in it and to give what I can and help with the organizations that really matter to me and have mattered to my family for generations."
Name: Clara Ehrhart
Family: Parents Rick and Laura Ehrhart and brothers Gates and Trey.
Education: Bachelor's degree in business administration from Illinois Wesleyan University.
How are you involved in your community?
I am a member of the boards of Sunset Home and the Michelmann Foundation. I sing with the Quincy Symphony Chorus and also serve on Encore!, the volunteer council for the Quincy Symphony Orchestra Association. I'm a member of Young Professionals and the Quincy Public Schools Foundation Planned Giving Council. I'm currently serving as a loaned executive for the United Way's 2017 Annual Campaign. I also enjoy volunteering with the Quincy Community Theatre and Quincy Public Schools Music Department.
What is your job, what do you do and what do you like best about it?
I am a trust officer at Mercantile Bank. I administer accounts for individuals and organizations that have named the bank as corporate trustee, executor, agent or guardian. In my role, I am allowed and encouraged to be involved in the community, and that is very fulfilling for me. I also enjoy building relationships with my clients. Ultimately, my role is about helping others and providing detail-oriented oversight, and I love that about my job.
What is a typical workweek like?
Something I love about being a trust officer is that I have no typical workweek. There is a lot of variety in the tasks and events that fill my time. I often attend community events, either to network or to volunteer. I am communicating with my clients all throughout the week. When I am able, I try to review documents and files to make sure my clients are receiving the best possible service and that nothing is being overlooked.
What was your first job, and what do you remember about it?
I got hired for my first paid job by my best friend's mom when I was 14 years old. I helped out with the Quincy Art Center's summer Art Camp classes for six years. It was hard work, but a lot of fun. Working with kids all day gave me a new respect for teachers and parents.
How do you balance everything?
For me, managing a busy schedule of work, community involvement and commitments to friends and family must always be balanced by time for myself. I am somebody who needs that time to recharge. As long as I allow for "me time" throughout the week, I am living a balanced life. Sometimes that means saying "no" to others.
Which person has influenced you the most and why?
I have been shaped by many friends, family members, teachers and coworkers, but my mom and grandmother come to mind immediately as being examples of women who broke the mold. My mom worked all throughout my life and currently owns and operates a business in a male-dominated industry, so I admire her leadership. My grandma, at 81, proudly manages her own finances, follows the stock market, and chooses her own investments, so I admire her independence. Both women have given substantial time to this community in various volunteer capacities, so I have tried to live by that example.
Have you ever failed at something?
I tend to believe that there are no failures, only lessons. The connotation of the word "failure" is negative, but I don't look back on any of my past "failures" in a negative light. Some "lessons" I've learned -- that I wasn't meant to be an economics minor, that I didn't enjoy working in technology, and that preparation should always supplement ability.
What does success mean to you?
I have already learned that success has little to do with title, salary or employer. Success, to me, is about two intangibles -- how well-suited are your talents to your role, and how happy are you to come to work every day? A positive answer to both questions is a good measure of success.
What was your proudest professional moment?
I was always told in college that connections and networking would give you more opportunities than the very best resume. It was a proud moment for me when that actually happened. A job opportunity presented itself because of a connection I had made with someone months prior. It shows that you never know when you might be making an impression on someone and what that impression could mean. I was just glad the impression I left with this person was so positive.
What is your favorite stress buster/leisure time diversion?
My mom and at least a few of my good friends will laugh at this, but cleaning my apartment came to mind first. On Saturday mornings I like to open up all the blinds, blast my music, and clean and tidy everything up before lunchtime. I find it strangely relaxing.
What is the biggest need in your community?
Quincy needs to focus on attracting and retaining young, diverse people to give it a promising future. Employers should be thinking about what type of workplace culture might attract a young worker. Entrepreneurs should be thinking about what type of businesses and restaurants are frequented by young shoppers and diners. The public schools are already thinking about what type of schools young parents would want their children to attend.
What gives you reason for optimism in your community?
Seeing the changes to the downtown area in recent years has been really exciting. There are so many new shops, boutiques and restaurants, and there are some great events that take place in the District. It feels more urban and youthful than it did five or 10 years ago, and that is exactly what Quincy needs.
If you could go back in time and give advice to yourself when you were in high school, what would it be?
My advice would be to buy myself a coffeemaker so I would be less likely to fall asleep during class (apologies to any of my teachers who remember this about me) and to spend less time comparing myself to other girls.
If you could add a few more hours to the day, how would you spend them?
I would spend them reading or exercising -- preferably outdoors, if the weather is nice. Too often, those activities are the first to be cut from my day when other things creep on to the calendar. I would love to have a few more hours so that I wouldn't need to worry about fitting them in.
Do you live by any mantra or saying?
Two that come to mind are: "Stop being afraid of what could go wrong and focus on what could go right." Or, "Don't worry about that which is out of your control."