By Courtney Warren
Jana Dear is known and loved by many for all she has done in her role as Canton Tourism Director. Recently, Dear submitted her resignation as director to begin a new chapter and new adventure.
Canton Tourism is funded by the restaurants and hotels in Canton; but much more falls under the tourism umbrella, including the flea market, Christmas light festival, hot air balloon festival, Canton Beautification, Ladies Night Out, Young Filmmakers Workshop, and Upstairs Downtown. With Dear at the helm for many years, Canton Tourism has flourished.
As usual, when asked about her experiences as the tourism director, Dear pointed all of the fingers at her staff.
“My staff is amazing! Most of them have been with me for over ten years, and they really are the magic behind our doors! They know how to greet a visitor and make them feel like they are at home, and I believe that is the main reason we have repeat visitors each year. They feel welcome here, because they are greeted and remembered by our staff,” she said.
Forever supporting not just the restaurants and hotels, but local businesses as well, Dear said there is much to love about these small-owned treasures.
“Canton has more locally-owned restaurants than any small town I know of, and that speaks volumes to a visitor who wants to experience the ‘local’ cuisine. Getting to know the hearts and souls of our restaurants and grill owners has been one of my greatest blessings here in Canton. Any time we have a group of visitors, whether it be two or fifty, these hotels and restaurants will bend over backwards for them,” she said.
Dear works closely with not only the Canton Board of Aldermen, but all Canton city employees. From Canton Municipal Utilities (CMU) to the Canton Fire Department, all city employees have gotten their hands dirty to make Canton Tourism better.
“The city really is blessed with some of the best of the best. Any event we put on requires help from the police department, fire department, and public works, and they all just know what it takes to make it work. We have had a great team here for years, and I honestly could not have done my job if it wasn’t for them.
“I couldn’t have done my job with CMU. Every department out there helps me in any way I need it. They move our stage for us at the balloon fest, they set up all the lights and haul all the decorations in for Christmas, and so much more.”
Full of unique experiences and life changing moments as the tourism director, Dear smiled as she remembered a few fond moments.
“For years, I thought in my head we did the Christmas festival to attract visitors to town to shop and eat and give children an experience. One year, I was walking the square checking on things, and an elderly couple was walking hand-in-hand in front of me. I stopped and asked them where they were from, and they told me, and I asked if they had children or grandchildren with them on our rides. They both smiled and said, ‘no we come every year to walk around this town at Christmas, because it reminds us of our courting days!’ I just cried, because I knew then my job touched more than children and merchants - it touched all ages of life,” she said.
While sweet moments are ones we cherish, many of the laugh lines on Dear’s face are due to the shenanigans at Canton Tourism.
“I had just started working at Canton Tourism, and there was a little fire truck we used to have that went around the square at Christmas time. They asked me to drive it in the city Christmas parade. Well, it was an older lawn mower converted to a fire truck, and I had several aldermen and the fire chief in the back of it. I had come to a stop in the parade; and, when I let off the clutch, it almost flipped - and I looked back and saw the legs of aldermen flying and the fire chief jump out of it! I just knew then I was fired,” she said through laughter at the memory.
There are hidden jewels all over Mississippi; and, because of her position, Dear has been able to uncover the jewels in Canton.
“Canton is such a small town and community, you can’t just be tourism director and not be involved. It has allowed me to meet people in all walks of life and get to know them and their hearts in ways I never would have. It will be the one thing I miss the most! Canton’s heart for its people is huge,” she said.
Before her departure, several Cantonians wanted to ensure Dear knew the impact she had on both the people and the community.
“It has been a joy to work with Jana at Canton Tourism. Her leadership, her drive, her hard work, and her creativity has made my job fun! She will be missed by all of us at Canton Tourism. May God bless her as she begins a new adventure at her new job,” said Charlotte Wilson.
Ann Stringer said, “Jana and I have worked together for 12 years at Tourism. She has always tried to do what she thought would be the best to showcase Canton! Her creative mind, her organizational skills, and mostly, her friendship will be missed!”
“Jana and I have been friends for many years before we started working together at Canton Tourism. I am not only blessed to have been able to call her my boss, but also one of my very best friends. It has been a great pleasure spending the last year working with Jana in planning and delivering all the outstanding Canton activities,” said Stacy Hodges.
Anne Mansell said, “I call her my ‘Bossy’ but in all honesty there is nothing bossy about Jana. She is my boss at the Canton Welcome Center, but mostly she is my dear, precious friend. We have laughed and cried together as she has been by my side through good times and bad. Jana will be missed tremendously at Canton Tourism, but I am so happy for her new venture in life. She will be an asset wherever she is.”
“I could say so much on how Jana helped me, but I’m going to keep it short and sweet. When I moved to Canton after going through a divorce, I was living with my relatives. Jana helped me get my own place to stay. Now I’m living on my own since she gave me a job. I’m going to miss her so much! I will miss my little sister/Boss Lady every day. I feel very blessed for my family at Canton Tourism and Jana is the reason I have them all in my life,” said Lorenzo Williams
“Jana Dear has been a dear and devoted friend, co-worker and outstanding leader. She is a pillar in the Canton community, and she works tirelessly for the improvements of our city. Her work and emphasis on shared leadership has plateaued the city to new heights. She deserves lots of credit for her work with the flea market and the Christmas festival. We owe her a huge thanks for her time, patience, diligence, persistence, and vision in working with the city. Jana is an astonishing person” said Clyde Brown.
Joy Foy said, “I have known Jana for years and have the most respect for her as I watch her deal fairly with everyone. I also admire the salt Jana has in her to stand up for what is right and to stand her ground. I doubt there is another tourism director in our whole state that has a committee to manage litter and beautification matters, but when Jana sees a need, she finds a people to help her manage the issue. I am delighted that she contact me and Kathy Hammack about being her Beautification Committee chairs. We have both enjoyed getting to work with Jana and being involved in making Canton look better. My best wishes to you Jana.”
Ruby Coleman at the Canton Welcome Center was sure to add in her thoughts about Dear.
“When you can call your boss by her first name says a lot! Whether you are on the scene, behind the scene, or on scene, Jana is Jana. She is one of the most laid back bosses I’ve ever encountered. However, she expected you to do your job, and do it well! She always made me feel appreciated. It didn’t matter if my job was cleaning or in charge of the office, she treated me with the most high respect. Those who know her, know that she is a very hard worker an takes pride in what she does! Tourism has been her “Baby” ever since it was placed under her watch when Joann Gordon retired. She has nourished and perfected everything it represents. None of which was done with dread, but with enthusiasm and great joy! She never claimed that she knew it all, but she always had a vision for where we were going so, she put the right people in places to get it accomplished. She made our small family like unit, Canton Welcome Center & Tourism, a big part in Canton’s success. Jana, I admire how you handle your business and how you are working and praying to ensure that everything stays intact and in capable hands for a smooth transition.
“Jana with blurred vision from my tears, we will miss you dearly. I pray that Canton realizes what a ‘jewel’ they had in you as our Tourism Director, because we that worked for you have always known. We saw every day that you were the best. I love you Jana.”
Dear’s last day as director will be September 9; and, while she will still be back to visit, she leaves incredibly large shoes to fill at the tourism office.