Jasper appointees eager to push city forward


JASPER — With the start of the new year, new faces have been appointed to fill the seats on various Jasper government entities. Some are familiar. Others are new.
One thing they all have in common: They’re all eager to help push the city forward.


Emi Donato, Community Arts Commission

A media specialist and library teacher at Tenth Street Elementary School, Emi Donato is an arts advocate.

She is fueled by a passion for creativity, and backed by her years of experience in working with children, she hopes to bolster the community’s offerings for youth.

A couple ideas Donato is interested in exploring include finding a way to host a space where kids can be creative in their free time, and facilitating a peer mentorship program for them.

“I think the main thing is just having some more creative outlets for the kids,” said Donato, who was appointed to her seat on the Jasper Community Arts Commission by Mayor Dean Vonderheide. “Whether it’s at the elementary level, or at the middle school or high school level. For kids, outside of school.”

She explained that these could be achieved through the city’s new Thyen-Clark Cultural Center. That building is slated to open in December.

Make no mistake — Donato, 52, knows that great arts-related programs already exist in Jasper. She credited those who work and volunteer in the arts community for their hard work. She just wants to see their reach expanded.

Donato — who was born in Oklahoma and lived in many places before moving to Jasper about two decades ago — has served on the city’s arts and education committee, is a former member of the Tenth Street parent-teacher council and was also part of the Jasper Youth Soccer Board for nearly a decade.

“The one thing that I love about this area is that people are very community-driven,” she said. “A lot of people volunteer their time. And it’s not just with the arts, but it’s with sports and things socially. It’s just a good place to live.”

She lives in Jasper with her husband, Michael. The two have three children: Blaken, Ashdon and Annie.


Mike Harder, Utility Service Board

This isn’t Mike Harder’s first stint on the Jasper Utility Service Board.

He held a seat from the early 2000s to the mid 2010s — a contentious time for the local entity, marked by conversations regarding the future of the city’s old power plant that sparked heated debates.

Now, he’s back, and he hopes to bring an experienced perspective to the board.

“I think that I just want to make sure things continue to run as they have,” said Harder, 58. “It seems like the city of Jasper is very blessed to have good managers on the utility side of things.”

He continued: “And I’m not looking to make waves. Just to be a sense of reason, maybe, if that opportunity arises when a big project comes up.”

Harder was appointed by Vonderheide to fill out the remaining year of Rick Stradtner’s term. Stradtner was a longtime, respected member of the group who died in late 2019.

Harder’s résumé includes coaching, umpiring and refereeing in local sports leagues, and he works as a regional sales manager at Hermes Abrasives.

“I think I have a pretty good rapport with all the other managers,” he said of his experiences with the utility leaders. “Just want [them] to feel they can have someone they can trust in, and be somebody they can bounce something off of if they have a question.”

Harder lives in Jasper with his wife, Christy.


Blake Krueger, Plan Commission

For Blake Krueger, it was time to get involved again.

He dedicated hours of his life to community endeavors as a young man. He served as the president of the Jasper Chamber of Commerce and the Jasper chapter of the Junior Achievement of Southwestern Indiana group, and he also gave back to his community in other ways.

But then, his children were born, and he recognized that he needed to be there for them.

Now, he’s ready to jump back in.

“I’m at a point in my life where I’m ready to give back,” said Krueger, 50.

Vonderheide appointed him to fill out the remaining year of Paul Lorey’s term on the commission, but Krueger hopes he can hold a spot on the board into the future. Lorey defeated Earl Schmitt in the November elections, and Lorey will remain on the commission in the Jasper-Common-Council-appointed seat that Schmitt vacated.

Krueger is excited to serve his community through a new avenue. He’s seen his city through various volunteer lenses, and he understands that the plan commission is a key player in Jasper’s push ahead.

Bringing in new businesses and people while maintaining the pride that the city radiates are all important to him.

“With the planning commission, it’s more about the future of the city,” he explained. “You’re looking at how we’re going to develop these things, how are we going to maintain the integrity [of], for lack of a better term, what our forefathers have done. How are we going to improve upon that, and continue this fabulous growth that Jasper has?”

First on his agenda is learning more about his role as a plan commission member. He’s motivated by the history of the city, as well as the respect it has earned over the years and the name its people have made for it.

Krueger co-owns Krueger & Associates, CPA’s LLC, in Jasper. He lives with his wife, Melanie. They have two children: Cal and Kara.


Angel Serrano, Plan Commission

Known throughout the area for his specialty haircuts, Angel Serrano is now shaping his community in a new way.

He recalled how he often talks with Nick Hostetter about homes, permits and land while he cuts his client’s hair. Those barbershop discussions led 45-year-old Serrano — who was born in El Salvador and immigrated to the United States at age 13 — to a Jasper Plan Commission appointment by the Dubois County Commissioners.

“I like to learn,” Serrano said. “I like to take the challenge to do new things.”

He didn’t take the decision to join the group lightly. Serrano is his family’s provider — he works 60 hours a week at La Frontera Hair Cuts, a business he has owned and operated since 2010.

He talked the appointment offer over with his wife, Jenni Zaldivar, and he decided to go for it. Many people know him, and he likes that the seat will give him an opportunity to give back to the city.

Serrano explained that Hostetter — who is one of the three county commissioners — felt it would be good to have someone with a Hispanic background on the outfit. The local barber believes he could bring new ideas to the group.

“I think it’s important for me to be part of them,” Serrano said of his membership on the commission. “I feel pretty honored that he appointed me. He gave me the potential to be there. Because a lot of people don’t make it there.”

Serrano sees value in the order and structure the plan commission provides, and he’s looking forward to helping Jasper residents understand the city’s codes and regulations when they want to build something new.

But first, he’s focusing on learning and understanding the city’s unified development ordinance for himself. That document guides most of the commission’s actions.

He and Jenni live in Jasper with their children, Heaven, Nataly, and Brielle Serrano.


Brenda Welsh, Redevelopment Commission

Born and raised in Jasper, Brenda Welsh loves her community.

Recently appointed to the Jasper Redevelopment Commission by Vonderheide, she’s now looking forward to making it even better.

“I look forward to helping them make some decisions on bettering the community [and] things to develop in the area,” said Welsh, 49.

Welsh co-owns Sell4Free Welsh Realty with her husband, Andy. She believes this background will help her on the commission, which places an emphasis on repurposing old buildings and driving growth in the community.

“I’ve been a lifelong member of the community, and I’m a business owner in the area,” she said of her motivations to help lead Jasper into the future. She sees her work on the commission as part of the movement to entice young people to call the community home.

“I think that’s definitely something we need to work on,” she said.

Welsh said she wants to get her feet wet before making any big suggestions to the group, but she is excited to join the redevelopment commission’s ranks.

“I’m just excited to be a part of it,” she said. “I think Jasper’s growing, and I’m just excited to be part of the commission.”

She lives in Jasper with her husband, Andy. The couple has two children: Hannah and Rachael.


Kurt Vonderheide, Economic Development Commission

He was humbled and honored. Now, Kurt Vonderheide is ready to listen.

Appointed to the Jasper Economic Development Commission by the mayor and the common council, Kurt understands the importance of his role on the local group.

“I’m just looking forward to learning and just being a part of the city’s growth,” said Kurt, 57. “This is an exciting time in the community, and I’m glad to be a part of it.”

Though he’s never served on a city government board, he has a strong business background and is a good listener who seeks to understand. Kurt currently works remotely for Performance Strategies Inc., which is based in Indianapolis. He previously worked for more than 30 years at Kimball International, where he served in various director roles.

Learning is a priority for Kurt, and he also spoke of the importance of enhancing opportunities to bring infrastructure to businesses in the community.

“The goal is to help retain those organizations that are currently there,” Kurt said. “And how do we enhance their growth opportunities, and also be attractive to new business growth.”

Keeping unemployment rates among the lowest in the state is also important to him, as is meeting the needs of employers.

When speaking about what he’s looking forward to doing, he said he wants to “keep fueling the fire and make it burn hotter, so we can be more attractive for all those employers.”

Kurt lives in Jasper with his wife, Selena. The couple has two children: Evan and Mira.

Other new appointments

New Jasper Common Council member Chad Lueken was also appointed to the Dubois County Solid Waste Board and Jasper’s electric utility subcommittee. Tim Demotte will serve as the non-voting school board representative on the city’s redevelopment commission.

More on DuboisCountyHerald.com