Menjivar’s ‘big impression’ blueprint for others



JASPER — Sitting in the largely empty council chambers at Monday night’s Jasper Utility Service Board meeting, Eber Menjivar adjusted his microphone and called roll. The 25-year-old is the youngest member of the local group, and he admitted he is in the process of acclimating to his new position on the board.

“Right now my goal is to get everyone’s name pronounced correctly,” he said with a smile after the meeting.

But more than his age sets him apart from his fellow members. When he was sworn in last month, Menjivar became the only Latino resident to currently serve on a Jasper government board.

He’s a driven man with an already deep involvement in the community. And he views his recent appointment not only as a positive avenue for personal growth, but also as a way to spark further leadership involvement from the area’s Latino community.

“I hope by appointing me, it leads others to kind of jump into these kind of roles,” Menjivar said. “Inspire or motivate them. I think it’s a good opportunity, good representation.”

The service board is the driving force behind a number of impactful city endeavors, such as the ongoing U.S. 231 waterline upgrade project, as well as the recently proposed water rate increase.

When longtime and highly respected member Keith Masterson resigned from his mayor-appointed spot on the board earlier this year due to health reasons, Mayor Dean Vonderheide called Menjivar.

The two met at a Will Read and Sing for Food charity benefit in early November. Back then, Vonderheide was still a city councilman, and former Mayor Terry Seitz had yet to announce his decision to step down and work with Mike Braun, who was days away from winning a U.S. Senate election.

But Menjivar left a big impact on Vonderheide, who remembered being struck by not only how sharp and confident the young man is, but also how prepared and eager Menjivar was to take a jump outside of his comfort zone.

Even before being elected mayor in January, Vonderheide actively searched for good, young people who were role models and would be good fits for leadership positions. He found one in Menjivar.

Coupled with the new mayor’s mission to increase the diversity of Jasper’s decision-making voices, offering him the open seat on the board was an easy phone call to make.

“When it comes to immersing and becoming a part of city government, I wanted to break it to where we got more Latino involvement, Latino background,” Vonderheide said. “So, I thought of him right away, just because he left a big impression.”

Menjivar’s community involvement was extensive well before he joined the service board. He is the co-vice president of the American Latin Association of Southern Indiana, a nonprofit organization that aims to improve the lives of Latinos in Southern Indiana and promote civic engagement by motivating and helping them access trustworthy support systems.

He’s a line technology leader at Kimball Electronics — an industry connection that further bolstered his appeal to Vonderheide — and through the area’s Latino Collaboration Table, Menjivar has spoken to Dubois County high school students about local manufacturing positions and the advantages of being bilingual. He is also a graduate of the Dubois County Leadership Academy and the Jasper Citizens Academy.

“I knew it was going to be a good opportunity for me to learn more and develop,” Menjivar said of his choice to accept Vonderheide’s invitation to the service board. “And just be more knowledgeable of what’s going on inside the community and take part in it.”

A proud resident of Jasper, he was born in Hollywood, California, and moved with his family to Jasper 15 years ago. His parents, Jose and Maria, were impressed with the community after visiting for a wedding, and they relocated shortly after. Menjivar also has two younger brothers, Cristopher, 23, and Anthony, 16.

Representing them makes him proud. And it makes them proud, too.

“They support me,” Menjivar said. “They’re all about it. They also like the aspect of getting someone, a Latino, in these positions. Hopefully, the next ones follow. Being united is so much better than separating or segregating. And not just here in Jasper, but worldwide.”

Now excited to learn and dive into his newest endeavor, Menjivar believes his next 15 years here will be even better than his first.

“We have a great group of people,” he said. “Being involved and seeing how we work together and [how] we’re looking forward to the future is interesting. I’m excited to see how we develop.”

He added that he appreciates Vonderheide’s goal of bringing Latinos into city decision-making. He is humbled, and hopes to be a role model going forward.

“I’d like for people to just always believe in themselves,” Menjivar said. “Even if it’s not in local government. Just to go out and pursue their dream, or pursue something that they feel passionate about. Whether that’s local government or any of the great manufacturing industries, business, the medical field — anything.”

He continued: “I feel proud of the position I’m in, and being able to represent being Latino and being young. I think that’s important to me. And I hope it’s important to others.”

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