FRENCH LICK — Jasper Mayor Dean Vonderheide provided his mayoral perspective Friday afternoon during the second day at the Indiana University Center for Rural Engagement’s Rural Conference at the French Lick Resort. Mayor Vonderheide was joined by former Huntingburg Mayor Denny Spinner and other southern Indiana mayors for the on-stage discussion inside the Windsor Ball Room.
Spinner asked what makes each community ‘tick,’ and why do people choose to live in their town.
“What I hear most often is that we are a very clean and friendly community and I take that not lightly it’s a very deep rooted value system that we operate off of,” Vonderheide responded. “A lot of that come because we are a community of immigration from the 1800 German immigration to mass immigration most recently. We have become that melting pot in a rural area; we are rural, but worldly. We’re familiar with what’s going on in the rest of the world. We know what can make us better; and we continue to build on the diversity of perspectives that we have. That’s what I think I value the most at this time.”
Spinner asked what the biggest challenges are facing each mayor from a private role and creating leadership in a public realm rather than a private one.
For Mayor Vonderheide one of the most frustrating parts of switching to a public role was all the regulations that had to be followed due to how long it took to get the project through. One of the examples he used was that he could get a project through in two weeks as opposed to now having to possibly wait years to do everything the project has to go through.
Spinner also asked what the mayors do to help identify leadership in their community and their respective plans to prepare the next generation of leaders that will be in charge of Jasper and the Wabash Valley.
One of the first things that Mayor vonderheide did was make a youth counsel, like Mayor Scott Long. He said he believes one has to always keep an eye open for talent.
“The youth leadership group has been going well. They are able to make all these contacts on their own learning and being able to make their own fundraisers to make the projects happen,” he said. “I hopes by them having left their mark on the community that it will encourage them to come back knowing that they have a voice in the community.”
Spinner inquired about what creative ideas that the mayors had that resolved the issue. One of the organizations that Mayor Vonderheide helped create was the Heart of Jasper, which also now helps to bring in new business to Jasper and help them to grow. He also mentioned a grant of up $10,000 to businesses that were willing to use the money to update storefronts in downtown Jasper to draw the public back to it. He said when he first started the program, not very many people took the offer; but gradually they came around. He believes the downtown area is the heart of a rural community.
Mayor Vonderheide’s pride for the Jasper community was on full display at the conference Friday afternoon; beaming while speaking about the students in his youth council and how Jasper is flourishing and growing, while still keeping the values that have been passed down for generations.