History of Leadership Vestavia Hills

Leadership Vestavia Hills began as the brainchild of Dennis Anderson. While he served as a leader in the Vestavia Hills Rotary Club and his wife Karen served as a leader in the Vestavia Hills Chamber of Commerce, they each became frustrated with their personal lack of knowledge of the scope of community organization and resources. The Andersons were confident about the leadership talent that existed within the city limits, but the question remained as to how citizens of Vestavia Hills might be gathered together for the purpose of leveraging their knowledge, skills, and capabilities to benefit the community. 

Dennis soon found that he was not alone in his concerns. After voicing his thoughts with numerous residents and groups, he learned that others shared similar concerns. Knowing that there was a wealth of talent and resources among the residents of Vestavia Hills, Dennis and other community leaders felt that there must be some vehicle to answer these questions: Who do we call? How do we identify these resources? How can we best network with one another? How do we best educate, train, and prepare citizens for leadership in the community? 

From these discussions came the formal idea of creating an organization that would seek to bring together potential city leaders and make them more aware of the social and economic dynamics that impacted their community. This idea led Dennis to explore how other successful communities identified and educated their “best and brightest.” 

After much study of leadership development programs such as Leadership Birmingham, Leadership Atlanta, Leadership Dallas, and others, Dennis approached the Vestavia Hills Chamber of Commerce with the idea of forming Leadership Vestavia Hills. 

The chamber responded with overwhelming enthusiasm and a willingness to sponsor the organization for its initial year. Additional assistance was provided by BellSouth and individuals George Elliott and Candy Mobley. Their vision and hard work came to fruition in 1996 when the inaugural class of Leadership Vestavia Hills began with 18 participants. 

After its first year in existence, the demand for and excitement surrounding this program was apparent. So, in 1997, the group’s promising future necessitated its incorporation, a set of bylaws, and a board of directors (comprised of the graduates from the inaugural class). Additionally, in 1998, Leadership Vestavia Hills gained status as a non-profit, community education corporation. With all of these pieces in place, as well as a completed second class and the beginning of the third, Leadership Vestavia Hills was on its way! 

From its inception, area leaders have participated in and offered support to the organization. State Sen. Jabo Waggoner and State Rep. John Hawkins has been strong proponents of the group and has spoken regularly to its leadership classes – even hosting the inaugural class in Montgomery. The Office of the Mayor of the City of Vestavia Hills, recognizing the tremendous value and promise of this program, lent its endorsement to Leadership Vestavia Hills in 1997. And, in partnership with the Vestavia Hills Chamber of Commerce, Leadership Vestavia Hills hosted a luncheon featuring then Gov. Fob James. 

Each Leadership Vestavia Hills class works throughout the class year on projects aimed at improving the city and the lives of its citizens. These projects have been incredibly valuable and have included the development of the Community Roundtable; documentation of the need for Vestavia Hills to have a formal strategic plan; research on how other area cities have managed zoning issues and recruiting/retaining successful businesses; development of initial plans for a community fine arts performance center; and implementation of a community survey regarding shopping preferences in Vestavia Hills – just to name a few. Even the launch of the website was a project developed by one of the classes! 

Over the past 25 years, Leadership Vestavia Hills has continued the tradition of identifying and gathering the best and the brightest. Since its creation, the group boasts graduates who serve or have served as state representatives, city government officials and employees, city council members, school superintendents, school board members, a county constable, elementary and middle school principals and vice-principals, area ministers, bankers, judges, attorneys, businessmen and women, and homemakers. This list serves as a testament to the organization’s commitment to recruiting and developing leaders from diverse backgrounds, to intentionally building relationships where none had previously existed, and to informing and empowering these individuals to work together for the common good and future of the City of Vestavia Hills.