1. Tell me about your beginnings, growing up in Conway Springs, etc.
I grew up the oldest of 8 just outside of Conway. Attended St. Joseph's and then CSMS, graduating CSHS in 2004. I always enjoyed being involved in activities & volunteering (I remember taking over the little league soccer for a year, as no one else would, and we thought the program was done), taking particular interest in music, performance, and leadership. Once I graduated, I attended Kansas State University, with a focus on Music Education and Leadership Studies. Moved back to Conway Springs in 2006, where Eric and I started a family, and have been ever since.
2. You were in the EMS program for a while. Tell me about that.
I remember CSEMS looking for people. I don't necessarily remember what motivated me to sign up, except that a class was being offered in town, and I thought it'd be a good set of skills to have as I was raising our 18 month old daughter, and were hoping to have more children. I grew up in Emergency services, and was very intimately aware of the time commitment, sacrifices, and duties of an EMT, especially a volunteer. I thought it was an honor to serve, and enjoyed it, through good times and bad. I served for almost 9 years, and resigned my position in January 2017 to focus on family and my business. I still maintain my EMT certification, because you just never know what the future holds.
3. What ultimately inspired you to run for mayor of Conway Springs?
I think most people that run for local office do so with "change" in mind. Everyone has strengths, and different methods and ideals. I thought and prayed long and hard about the decision to file. Ultimately, change and integrity are what motivated me. I felt the community should have options, and since I was no longer volunteering on CSEMS, I figured I could offer my services in this manner. I love leadership, the mindset that goes with it, and the ability to impact MANY people in a positive way. I love encouraging others to think as a unit, for a common good, and establishing a tone. I think leading by example is very important.
4. What have you learned the most in your life that has helped you out being the mayor?
I've only been mayor for 1 month, and have a LOT to learn. Learning as I go, in fact (and it's been like trying to drink from a fire hose). It's nice having a team of people surrounding me, and those closest who have been supportive, as well as spending time on the phone and in person to teach me the in's and out's. I think what most prepares ANYONE for growth is adversity. And I'm in no way different. Adversity challenges us and forces two choices: give up, or push through. We all deal with some very difficult things in life that cause very raw emotions, but these things help us learn, adapt and grow. Adversity is what ultimately lit the fire. Now I'm running with it, as it seems that there are many in Conway ready to move forward, and see a community-wide growth, as well. I think the other aspect important for any leader, is the willingness to be open-minded, and learn. Constant education is so important. Whether through life (parenthood, EMS, relationships), and in classroom settings. I love learning, and hope to continue to be active in seeking out and offering these opportunities for our council, city leadership, and myself. It's a dangerous thing to grow comfortable and stagnant. Education alone can shake things up, and spark the interest needed to set things in motion. And of course, having a moral code. Whatever that is for oneself. Know it, share it, and don't lose it. For me, integrity is most important. For how you act when no one is watching says more about your character than how you act in public. And I think that's important for anyone in positions of community interest.
5. What have been the biggest surprises since you became mayor?
Frankly: no surprises, yet. The decision to run for mayor wasn't taken lightly, and in doing so, I ran through so many scenarios, so that I'd be prepared as they happened. I knew I wasn't liked by many for choosing to run. Friendly acquaintances grow cold when you stand for something, but it's so important to do so! I also knew going in that I'd have a lot to learn about the day-to-day goings on, and demands of a mayor. Most mayors in our county, and state are essentially volunteers. But like my position in EMS, you're still held to the same standards as any non-volunteer in a large city. Trying to treat the position & responsibilities with as much respect and attention is of utmost importance, especially in these beginning weeks. It's a delicate balance, especially in a small town. I think my biggest surprise has been my personal relationship with vulnerability. I'm no stranger to being in front, but with this specific position, it's been something of a hurdle. There's a great Ted Talk by Brene' Brown about rethinking our vulnerability as a powerful tool in relationship building. After my "vulnerability hangover" at our Strategic Planning meeting last week, I realize it's a good thing. Just like adversity!
6. What do you like the best about being the mayor of Conway Springs?
So far, I love getting things done. It was joked that I shouldn't go too fast... that I should slow down a bit, or I'll burn out. But, I'm used to the pace! I run my own business, lead a team of successful women and men, and have dedicated much of my kids' childhoods to EMS. Burn out is a concern, but not yet. We have so much to do! Conway has so much potential!! It's hard not to get excited about it, set goals, and move toward them. I have lot investing in our community, and we have chosen to raise our family here. I think I'm most excited about having a direct impact on the future for our kids. Of course, in our community, ANYONE has that ability, regardless of position or view. It truly takes a village to make things happen, and achieve goals. I love the fact that what we want is achievable, and probable. All it takes is everyone working together. I love that I get a front row seat to seeing it happen.
7. What do you hope to accomplish as mayor of Conway Springs?
That's a tough question! First and foremost, I'd like to see our community leadership and organizations work together, regardless of past transgressions or disagreements. Build bridges of communication, and lead with integrity, encouraging others in positions of leadership to do the same. Then, working together as a cohesive leadership group to set goals, work actively toward them, and see them completed. I would love to see more emphasis on activities involving multiple generations that benefit the community as a whole (think community gardens, farmers markets, arts/crafts clubs, etc). Another important consideration that I'd like the opportunity to present is some kind of business incentive program. It was specifically asked about at a meeting some months ago, for a potential business that wanted to move to town. Because of the lack of any kind of program, or location to set up shop, the business opened in a neighboring community. We need to correct this, and brainstorm ideas so that this doesn't happen again. We missed out, and it's a lesson learned for the future.
8. Lastly, where do you see yourself in ten years?
Though I can't predict the future, I hope we're still in Conway. I hope that we're achieving the goals we set for ourselves. And, though this term is only 4 years, I hope to still be actively assisting in whatever volunteer capacity I can. And I hope my kids look around at our community and decide that Conway Springs is where they want to raise their families.
Jessica Gerlach discusses raising her family and being the mayor of Conway Springs
Feb 7, 2018 at 10:32 AM