Dean Vonderheide: Leading with heart

Photos by Brittney Lohmiller/The Herald
Director of Personnel and Safety Cale Knies, left, Street Commissioner Jeff Theising, Mayor Dean Vonderheide, City Attorney Renee Kabrick and Jasper Fire Chief Kenny Hochgesang talk about the speed limit on Portersville Road during a meeting at Jasper City Hall on Tuesday. 


JASPER — He had two minutes.

Like the other three applicants for the mayor of Jasper position, Dean Vonderheide had just 120 seconds to make a final case to a room of Republican committee members as to why he should be the city’s next leader.

Members of the media were not allowed in the room during the Republican caucus that would ultimately choose Vonderheide as the 14th mayor of Jasper. But Vonderheide, who is years-removed from his time on the Indiana University football team and careers as a teacher and professional problem-solver, smiled when he reflected on the moment.

He’s a conversationalist, but he’s no good when it comes to memorizing a speech.

So, when his timer started during the Dec. 26 caucus, the Jasper man spoke from something other than a script.

“I decided when it was my turn, I just spoke from my heart about what I thought,” said Vonderheide, 65.

His heart told him Jasper, the place he has called home for most his life, will face tremendous challenges. His heart told him that he has the power to solve problems and bring people together. And after putting a great deal of thought into the decision, his heart told him he was the man for the job.

Now, Vonderheide’s heart tells him to listen. He’s in line for a year of work, and possibly more if he wins the city’s mayoral election that will take place later this year. He confirmed he will enter that race.

In the meantime, his focus is on getting up to speed. He worked his first day as Jasper’s mayor on Monday, a long shift loaded with meetings with department heads, city officials and even Huntingburg Mayor Denny Spinner.

Vonderheide is moving so fast, he hasn’t really moved in. His office phone still needs setting up, as does his computer. Running full speed had kept him from logging on even once. And while he hasn’t used it much yet, the story of how he came to be behind the biggest desk in the city is filled with twists and turns.

Mayor Dean Vonderheide listens to Josseline Carr of Jasper, left, and Carlos Alcantara of Huntingburg during a Board of Public Works meeting at Jasper City Hall on Tuesday.

He taught and coached high-schoolers, and worked many jobs at Kimball International, the company he retired from in 2015 after serving it for more than three decades.

He’s recently become a voice on local government boards like the Jasper Common Council, Dubois County Contractual Library Board and the Jasper Public Library Board, and is also known for his business that grows hops used in various forms and styles of beer.

Born at Camp Atterbury near Indianapolis in 1953, Vonderheide moved to Holland when he was just 1 year old. He came to Jasper during his freshman year of high school, and after graduating, he pursued a bachelor’s degree at Indiana University with a degree in health, physical education and recreation, and minors in business education and social studies.

After finishing school, Vonderheide taught and coached sports at North Posey High School in Poseyville, as well as at Tell City High School for a total of three years before shifting from working in education to a job at Styline and Ferdinand Furniture in Huntingburg. After three years, he began climbing the ladder at Kimball International, and, ultimately, reached the chief human resources position at the company.

In October, Vonderheide received the 2018 President’s Community Excellence Award, an honor given annually to an individual who has generously contributed their time, talents and resources to the Jasper community by the city’s chamber of commerce.

Tuesday, Vonderheide said that just being selected to serve as mayor was an honor.

“If I was chosen, great,” he said. “I’d be ready for it. If I wasn’t, great. I’d be ready to support whoever was. I just think the future of Jasper is pretty important, and we all have to get on board sometime.”

He is a man who places an enormous value on integrity, and in his new post, he has pledged to do his best. Following Terry Seitz will be tough, Vonderheide said, because the former mayor did a great job.

Mayor Dean Vonderheide signs papers after the Board of Public Works meeting at Jasper City Hall on Tuesday.

Establishing a vision into the future is important to the new mayor, as is finding a way to help fund the potential Midstates Corridor project. Encouraging the engagement of all voices, particularly the city’s Latino and Hispanic communities, is also a priority, and so is hearing out youth voices. Vonderheide plans to launch a mayor’s youth council to get feedback from younger members of the community.

“The assimilation, the integration is really key,” Vonderheide said. “I think it’s a big factor for our future. And I say that about cultural backgrounds, religions and also the youth.”

Vonderheide also spoke on the necessity of the city working with the county as a whole, especially when it comes to filling the large number of open jobs in the area. Completing work on and executing the city’s new comprehensive plan is crucial to him.

He has a long list of issues to tackle. But at the same time, Vonderheide acknowledged the recent success the city has experienced, and he plans to keep it on the same positive path.

He and his wife, Ellen (Schroeder), have two daughters, Meghan (Premuda) and Anna (Grant). The couple has two grandchildren.

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