Influencing with Love and Leadership
Cookeville’s Most Influential People – Class of 2022
Whether on stage for an industry announcement, on the set with WCTE/PBS, or welcoming friends to her home at Cedar Spring Farm, Cookeville native Melinda Keifer always offers a hosting spirit that leads with love.
Love is the key word, a driver for Melinda in everything she does; love for her community, her region, her people.
Always poised and professional, Melinda has served as an ambassador for the Upper Cumberland as well as statewide, blazing a trail of “firsts,” generating an incredible impact.
As the first director of Cookeville CityScape, Melinda built a foundation that still impacts Cookeville’s downtown revitalization today, including the launch of the first downtown festival, Fall FunFest. As Tennessee’s Community Development Director, Melinda led renewed state efforts of the Three Star program and also secured sustainable funding for the state’s Main Street program.
Continuing her trailblazing, she went on to serve as the first Economic Development Coordinator for the City of Cookeville, a role she recently retired from but continues serving as a part-time consultant. Additionally, Melinda was the first host of WCTE/PBS’s Live Green Tennessee, highlighting local growers and the state’s agricultural assets.
Many firsts, yet Melinda jokes that her trailblazing wasn’t intentional. She was simply working to the best of her abilities with the opportunities given, applying a work ethic taught to her by her parents Tony and Dean Stone. Her passion to encourage others to do the same, and to do so with love, demonstrates a balance that moves the needle.
As a strong and influential leader, Melinda has been a pioneer, especially for women. One of her proudest accolades was receiving the Maker’s Award, born from the PBS Series: “Makers: Women Who Make America” and recognizing women who strive to bring out the best in their community.
Melinda believes characteristics of the most influential are often interchangeable with those that describe great leaders and that “those people exist everywhere at every level.”
“Integrity and trust are critical,” says Melinda, describing the late Joe Albrecht, a mentor she credits as a key influencer for her.
“He could say what you didn’t want to hear or ask the questions you needed to hear when guiding you,” notes Melinda. “It has been a blessing and a privilege to work among so many leaders like Joe, on both local and state levels, who have given me the chance to learn,” adds Melinda.
Now semi-retired, Melinda finds joy in being a self-proclaimed homebody, yet remains influential and plugged into the community.
– by Molly Brown