Story By Kendall Hollingsworth
Photos By Robert Noles
Leigh Krehling’s heart beats for three main things: family, friends and community.
If you’ve attended a local fundraiser, ribbon cutting, celebration or other community event in Opelika, chances are you’ve seen her there.
“I love doing things in the community and being active in it,” she said with a smile.
A native of Sylacauga, Alabama, Krehling has had her roots planted firmly in the Auburn-Opelika area since the 1990s. She attended Auburn University from 1991 to 1995, then ended up moving to Birmingham for a couple of years with her husband after graduating.
But as it turns out, the call back to The Plains was too strong to ignore. The Krehlings returned in 1999 and haven’t looked back.
“[I’ve] been here longer than where I grew up,” she mused.
Today, Krehling lives in Opelika with her husband, who works at Auburn University, and her two sons: Whitt, a pharmacy school student at Auburn, and Gus, a junior in high school.
Krehling’s professional background includes communications, public relations and advertising. She worked for an ad agency in Auburn for about 17 years before an opportunity presented itself with the city of Opelika.
“The funny thing was I kind of had always joked with Jan Gunter — who was in this position before me — about ‘I want your job someday,’ and so when it opened up, I applied and was so fortunate that it worked out because it’s an extremely rewarding position,” Krehling recalled. “Joey [Motley, city administrator] and the mayor have just been wonderful to let me take the ball and run with it, and to develop new and exciting ways to reach the public.”
Last November, Krehling celebrated six years as Opelika’s community relations officer. It’s her job to serve as the liaison between the city and the public, making sure citizens, businesses and local media stay up to date on
what’s happening in the community. In addition, Krehling handles social media and helps organize events.
It’s safe to say Krehling wears many hats, meaning no two days at her job are exactly the same — but you won’t hear her complaining.
“That’s what I like,” she said. “There are days that are absolutely crazy and you’re jumping from one thing to another, and then there are days where you can focus and be creative and do the fun side of the job. It is a good
What makes her job even more enjoyable, she said, is the chance to form new relationships — and enhance current ones — with other organizations in the area.
Hence her strong presence in the community. Krehling has been involved with the Opelika Chamber of Commerce, volunteering for its total resource campaign each year. She has long volunteered with Opelika City Schools, in which both of her children have grown up.
She is an active member and past board president of the Public Relations Council of East Alabama and served on the board at Red Cross.
But there’s yet another cause near and dear to her heart.
“My heart is full for United Way,” Krehling said.
Her involvement began while she was working with the ad agency in Auburn.
“We did all of the collateral marketing materials for them, and so over the years, I was able to know the employees and to know the impact United Way makes in our community,” she explained.
When Krehling started working for the city of Opelika, that involvement grew — leading to five years on the board and taking on the role as current board president.
“I’ve really indoctrinated myself into United Way and tried to do new and exciting things as board president this year to get our agencies and our board members to collaborate more throughout the year,” she said.
What’s even better, Krehling sees two worlds collide in her current job. Her department happens to be responsible for the city’s United Way campaign each year. And given her unique perspective as a volunteer, campaign chair and board president of the nonprofit, she has been able to help take fundraising to the next level.
“When I came in, the city was raising about $17,000 through the campaign,” Krehling said. “Each year we’ve improved, and we’ve done new things. A couple years ago, we decided to start having an event at Monkey Park in the summer to raise more money and to raise awareness for United Way.”
That event was Summer In The Park, hosting Burgers and Badges. The showdown pits the Opelika Fire and Police Departments against each other to see who touts the best burger-flipping skills. Despite the intensity of the name and game, it’s all in good fun.
“I am excited to say that this past year, raised just over $54,000 for the city’s campaign, and I think it was about $12,000 came from that event at Monkey Park,” Krehling said of the 2022 Burger and Badges.
Those successes haven’t gone unnoticed by United Way Executive Director Tipi Miller, though Miller has been singing Krehling’s praises long before now.
“I have worked with Leigh since she started working for the city and I was working for Keep Opelika Beautiful,” Miller said. “When I considered applying for the United Way director position, I was thrilled to find out
Leigh was incoming president of the Board of Directors.
“Leigh was the Campaign chairperson for the 2022 United Way Campaign. She was very organized, creative and did a wonderful job raising money for our 20 agencies.”
With a foot in both worlds, Krehling said she has enjoyed watching the magic unfold from behind the scenes. And with her ever-growing network of connections, she’s adept at helping connect people with the resources they need.
After all, that’s the goal of the United Way. Krehling is also quick to give credit to those who have influenced and supported her along the way, such as Pam Powers Smith.
“She was one of those people that I could bounce things off of and confide in,” Krehling said. “I miss her being in Opelika.”
But there are several others who have touched her life in more than a professional way — connections she can now call close friends and confidantes, such as Miller.
This “Board of Friends,” as she calls it, supports one another in a way that helps them grow both personally and professionally.
Becky Brown, who Krehling has gotten to know through Opelika City Schools (OCS), is also part of this unofficial board.
“We started working together over 13 years ago, and in addition to working really well together, we’ve become friends,”
Brown, who is the public relations coordinator for OCS, said.
“It’s great to have a person to talk business with and then be able to catch up on a personal level, too.”
Although Krehling stays busy, she said she still enjoys spending time with family and friends as much as she can.
One of her favorite places to visit is Lake Martin, where her parents have a lake house that has been the setting of many treasured family memories made over the years, she said.
“It’s a lot of fun when my sister comes in with her family,” Krehling said “We’ve watched the kids grow up there.”
Around Opelika, Krehling also frequents several downtown hotspots, but she has a soft spot for nature, often spending time at Monkey Park and Saugahatchee Creek.
Still, there’s no place like home — especially when curled upin front of the fireplace with a good book. And after some R&R,it’s back to work in the city of Opelika.
This year, Krehling said her department hopes to enhance its communication efforts.
“Our number-one goal is to make sure that the public has knowledge about things that are going on in the city, whether that is a project going on, about laws that may have changed, about meetings and public hearings,” she explained. “We’re the folks that get to touch all of the departments, which I also like because I get to work with so many different people in the city in trying to find a way to get that information to people where they are.”
Citizens can expect to see more video series as part of those enhancements, as well as a new podcast. And sometime down the road, Krehling said she hopes to start up a Citizens Academy in Opelika.
“There is no one that works harder to promote Opelika and all it has to offer,” Brown said.
At the end of the day, Krehling said, it helps that Opelika is a special place with a special sense of community.
“It is interesting to hear people from other cities — they’re in shock when I tell them how well different agencies and departments work together in this community, whether it be emergency management or fire and police; it’s a culture that is rare, I think,” she said. “So it really is a great community. I adore Opelika.”