Before Wal-Mart and Macedonia Commons, before Eaton Estate, the Nordonia Hills Chamber of Commerce was going through some hard times.

A news article in the Feb. 12, 1992 edition of the News Leader was headlined "Plagued by member apathy, Chamber considers break up."

The Chamber was formed eight years previously, but apparently had not been thriving, according to then-executive director Donald "Doc" Schoenegge.

"Whenever we have a project, members don't respond," he was quoted as saying. "They want to belong, but they don't want to do anything."

Former Chamber president Ray Kujawinski said part of the problem was a "lack of focus," which Shoenegge described as a "pro-business" attitude among Macedonia members, and a no-growth attitude in Northfield Center and Sagamore Hills.

"Each community has its own little identity that it doesn't want to sacrifice," said Shoenegge.

By September 1992, the Chamber had made plans for its first Expo, which would take place the next February at Brentwood Medical Center, and on Dec. 9, the News Leader headline read, "Chamber reversal nearly complete."

Chamber membership had grown 50 percent -- to 72 members -- with 40 percent attendance at meetings and five committees "working to improve the business community," the Chamber reported.

Brent Classen, of Brentwood Health Care, told the News Leader March 9 that he recalls that first Expo as a somewhat small affair, but added it was just one of several initiatives the Chamber instituted around the same time -- the other major one being the annual Duathlon, a 2.5 mile run, 10-mile bike, 2.5 mile run race that takes place in June.

According to the Feb. 10, 1993 edition of the News Leader, Expo organizer Paul Kaiser, of Kaiser de Sign in Sagamore Hills, said about 80 businesses and organizations exhibited at the first Expo, which was attended by around 1,000 to 1,200 people.

In subsequent years the Expo moved to Nordonia High School, at the suggestion of former Nordonia Hills Superintendent of Schools Paul Pendleton.

Pendleton, who served as superintendent from 1993 to 1999, said he recalls making the suggestion for the move at a Chamber board of directors meeting. Eventually, student art work from every school in the district was exhibited throughout the high school's main hallways: the "Knight Life" art show has become a big part of the Expo's attraction.

"We just wanted to make sure the schools were recognized as an integral part of the community," he said March 13. "The opportunity to showcase student art works, involving the community, and any time we have the opportunity to showcase kids and the work they do was important to us."

Pendleton ended up remaining in Sagamore Hills, where he moved after being hired as superintendent.

"I think it has become a real focal point for the community. To bring people together in a communal fashion, to focus on hopes, dreams, desires, wants for the community, and to showcase some wonderful things going on around the Nordonia Hills community ... sometimes that's real difficult to do in a school district that is made up of several communities."

Current Chamber President Maria Dubnicka, of ComForCare Senior Services, says she expects this year's Expo to be a success.

"I expect to see a great turnout from the community. The Expo is a place where people get together and meet their neighbors, and find many things, from an affordable way to get their home improvements -- and there are so many other businesses."

She added many of the exhibitors are "Mom and Pop" operations who rely on face-to-face communication with potential customers.

Chamber CEO Laura Sparano said many of the Expo exhibitors have been at the Expo all 25 years, adding the event has grown in popularity, even though it was cut from two days to one day about 10 years ago.

"It was a lot to ask of our vendors," she said, explaining many of them were paying employees to both run the business and exhibit at the Expo.

The 2017 Expo will take place on March 18 from 9 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. at Nordonia High School, 8006 South Bedford Road, Macedonia. Admission is free.

The theme for the 25th Expo is "United as a Community" -- a gathering place for neighbors, businesses, and friends.

Entertainment begins with music by the St. Barnabas Catholic School broup, "The Mangoes," followed by a martial arts demonstration by The Silent Mind studio from 10 to 11 a.m. Liberty Valley Church will then perform from 11 to 11:30, followed by Footnotes Dance from 11 to noon.

Other acts include singer Lisa Bass at noon, a performance of the Nordonia High School Drama Club's play "Les Miserables" at 12:30 p.m. and a marital arts demonstration by the American Academy of Martial Arts at 1 p.m.

Food will be provided by Chick-fil-A, and raffle tickets will be sold to benefit the Ray Kujawinski and Nancy Fike Memorial Scholarships.

The scholarships are awarded to graduating Nordonia High School seniors. For more information, call the Chamber office at 330-467-8956, or see nordoniahillschamber.org.

Eric Marotta: 330-541-9433

Email: emarotta@recordpub.com