Getting to Know CCEDC’s Leslie Rylke

Leslie along with her husband, Jonathan and daughters, Maya and Tess, recently visited Bourton-on-the-Water in the Cotswolds as part of a two-week exploration of the UK and Iceland.

Leslie Rylke, Marketing and Creative Services Manager at the Chester County Economic Development Council (CCEDC) has a few reasons to celebrate this summer.  Not only did she just mark her four-year anniversary with the organization on August 23 but also was promoted to her new role on July 1st.

CCEDC’s President and CEO, Gary W. Smith noted, “Leslie has not only expanded our internal capacity for designing our communications pieces, she has brought significant creative support to telling the CCEDC story and bringing our brand to the community at-large.”

VISTA.Today asked Leslie Rylke about growing up in Punxsutawney, working at CCEDC, eastern vs. western PA, attending Penn State, and her many travels.

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Where did you grow up, Leslie? 

Leslie about 1 year-old

I grew up in Punxsutawney, PA.  I was actually born in Lancaster and lived there until I was 18 months old so when I moved to Chester County it almost feels like I’ve come full circle.

I was number one in the pecking order in my family as I’m the oldest of two.  My sister, Renee, coincidentally lives in Exton with her husband and three boys.  We didn’t have cousins nearby by when we were growing up so it is nice that we both landed in the same place and that our kids are close.

My people come from Western PA.  We always found it funny that my mom grew up in a mining town, Colver, that was named after its two owners, Coleman and Weaver and my dad grew up in Revloc which is a semordnilap (word spelled backwards) for Colver so perhaps there was some fate involved.  Beyond that, I’m your basic European mutt.  Three of my four grandparents were immigrants.  My dad’s side is German (with some Polish mixed in) and my mom’s side is Slovak.

What memories of growing up in Punxsutawney stay with you?

My favorite memory as a kid are the summer days when I would hop on my bike after breakfast and connect with other kids in the neighborhood.  We’d ride all over town, perhaps exploring the woods, stopping for ice cream or candy, or playing softball or kickball in my back yard. Somebody’s mother would feed us lunch and then we’d all have to be home by dinner time or dusk, whichever came first.

I was known as the adventurous one in my family.  I learned to scuba dive when I was living in Los Angeles and I’ve taken up kayaking since I’ve lived in Chester County.  Since I’ve had my own family, we typically don’t take relaxing vacations as we prefer travels that have us exploring new places, diving into history, and trying new foods.  Ethiopian food is a family favorite and we try to find a restaurant wherever we travel.

Where did you go to college?

Four-year-old Leslie with her younger sister, Renee and their late father, John.

I wanted to earn a communications degree and then go on to work in film and television. Since my dad was a little overprotective and didn’t want me going to school in a big city, I ended up at the main campus of Penn State which had a great communications program.  Trust me, coming from Punxsy, State College still felt big.

I had great opportunities to work at WPSU-TV and freelance for sports broadcasts during my time there which helped me land a position in Los Angeles right out of college working on MTV’s The Real World.  I then went on to work on Roseanne and Third Rock from the Sun before moving back east.

What brought you to Chester County?

I’ve been in Chester County since 2005 when we moved up from suburban Washington, DC but I started coming here to visit in 2000 when my sister and her family moved here.  I became even more familiar with the area in 2002 when my husband, Jonathan Friedman, became the director of the Holocaust and Genocide Studies Program at West Chester University.  We didn’t make the move at that time as we were expecting our first daughter and selling and buying a house, moving, and looking for a job while eight months pregnant was not ideal.  After commuting for three years, he convinced me to move to Chester County and now I’m one of its biggest champions.

What surprised you the most when you moved to Chester County?

I wish someone had told me about all the open space before I moved to Chester County.  I’ve enjoyed exploring Marsh Creek, French Creek, Hibernia Park, the Struble Trail and more. 

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If you could change one thing about Pennsylvania, what would it be?

The one thing that bewilders me about Pennsylvania is, well, not so much bewilders as amuses me is how different one side of the state is from the other.  I’ve now lived about the same amount of time in the eastern part of the state as I did growing up in the western part so I’m keenly aware of many differences between the two.

I had a hard choice to make my freshman year at Penn State, one which saw me turning my back on “pop” and converting to “soda.”  I’d pick Wawa over Sheetz and Kennywood over Dorney Park but I say neither “yous” nor “yinz” and enjoy a cheesesteak as much as I do a Primanti Brothers.

You’ve been at the CCEDC since 2013, What do you do for the organization?

Leslie frequently went scuba diving off Catalina Island during the late 1990s.

I’m the resident storyteller for CCEDC.  I started out supporting the marketing and development departments.  I’m now the Marketing and Creative Services Manager and I am truly excited to help shape and communicate the vision of the organization.

My favorite part of my job is first and foremost the organization itself.  The Chester County Economic Development Council has a rich history of supporting businesses in the area which, in turn, has paid off in Chester County being ranked #4 on the list of “Ten Best Counties in the U.S” along with additional top rankings on both the state and national levels.  It’s so great that I get to work at an organization that is a part of that effort but better yet, I’m a resident who benefits as well.

Secondly, the people with whom I interact on a daily basis make coming to work so enjoyable.  My colleagues are a great group of people who are passionate about what they do and the support from our partner organizations and board members is key to our success.

Lastly, what I do is fun!  I’m a creative person so being able to design visual materials for print, web, or social media gives me an outlet for the right side of my brain.  Also, I went to college for video production so lately I’ve been putting those skills to use in producing short videos for our website, social media, and our Discover Chester County series.

What do you do in your free time?

When I’m not at work I like to play trivia every week with my team – Trivia Newton John. I also enjoy having family movie nights, playing cards with friends, and taking my kayaks out for a float.  We also host a huge Halloween party every year with a specific theme that takes months to pull off.  Last year’s theme was “dead royalty” and Jonathan and I went as Henry VIII and Katharine of Aragon, this year the theme is Game of Thrones. Then there is the food – while Ethiopian food is by far my favorite, I enjoy trying new restaurants and exploring the foods of various cultures.

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Leslie (third from left) helped mentor video production students from the Downingtown STEM Academy

You like to travel. What trips do you have planned?

The biggest item on my bucket list is exploring our planet.  I was 20 years old the first time I boarded a plane to study abroad in England.  I’ve been a world explorer ever since.   I took up scuba diving when I lived in Los Angeles which allowed me to experience the wonder of our undersea environment.

I’ve driven cross country three times and took a different route on each occasion.  I’ve already visited the Roman Coliseum so I’d love to see the additional Seven Wonders of the Modern World – Great Wall of China, Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil, Machu Picchu, Chichen Itza, Taj Majal, and Petra.  The Great Pyramids, Great Barrier Reef, Acropolis of Athens, and Pompeii are also on my list.

Last year I returned to England for the first time in more than 20 years and on the way back spent some time in Iceland over the summer solstice.

This July I got a little closer to visiting all 50 states by checking Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island off my list.  Jonathan and I enjoy seeing the world and bringing our two daughters, Maya and Tess, along for the ride so we are constantly in the cycle of plan, travel, recover, repeat and I can see that continuing well into our retirement years.

What was your favorite trip?

The best trip I ever took was to the corner of Laurel Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard. in February 1998.  My friend Rachel was out doing karaoke with some work colleagues at a bar right by my apartment in West Hollywood.  She called me up and invited me to join them and when I walked in and joined their table, a young gentleman in the group gave up his seat to me.  We started talking and have essentially been together ever since that night.

Finally, Leslie, what is the best piece of advice you ever received?

I can’t pinpoint one specific person or phrasing but growing up in my family it was reinforced that I should treat others as I would like to be treated.  That one’s integrity is to be valued, and that if you buckle down and work hard it will pay off.  For me that translates into making sure that you live an honest life, help others in need, and that no task beneath you.

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