MISHAWAKA, IND.-- In a time when every day news reveals the next political scandal, Mayor Dave Wood is a refreshing voice in his dedication to his “50,000” bosses—the citizens of Mishawaka, Indiana.
On Friday, October 19, Bethel College’s Media Writing class interviewed Wood to discover how he views his political calling and the ways his office serves the people of Mishawaka. As we walked into his office, friendly office staff led us into a comfortable conference room, where we sat for our conversation.Career Path “I am the poster child of someone who never knew what would happen with their life,” said Wood describing the process of his career trajectory. In high school, he was undecided about his future career path but had a love for history and art. “One of the things that I kind of fell in love with at an early age was history. And so, I thought at some point I might become a history teacher. But as I went through high school, I didn’t have many career aspirations.” In college, Wood began studying art but could not see a long-term career with it, so he switched over to history and got his teaching license. After graduating from college and getting married, he and his wife knew they wanted to live in Mishawaka, and Wood’s interest in politics began to grow. As Wood spoke about his passions, he explained one organization close to his heart is Habitat for Humanity. After travelling to South Africa and the Philippines to help build houses with them, he met people through that experience who changed his career path. Through his work with First Source, Wood got involved with a re-zoning issue in his neighborhood, and many people saw his leadership skills. Wood soon began his political career. He served on city council for 12 years, and once Jeff Rea resigned to become the director of the Chamber, Wood took his place on the first ballot. That was nine years ago, and Wood continues to lead the community of Mishawaka. Role Models Wood’s career history also included many role models. “I have a close family friend I work with, who built my house and work with all around the world building homes,” Wood said he considers him like a dad and looks up to him for making his community a much better place. Wood also referred to former President Jimmy Carter as a role model. As he had the chance to get to know Carter, Wood valued his approach to serving others and human rights. “He leads by example through his service and he lives in a pretty simple house… he lives a simple life and serves others, so that’s something I’ve always admired.” Former Mishawaka mayor Bob Beutter and Wood’s other predecessors “played a big role in my love of this job and trying to do this job to the best of my abilities,” said Wood. Relationship with Citizens The mayor believes that he serves “50,000” bosses comprised of Mishawaka’s citizens. Because Wood is a part of local government, he can communicate with his community in a very personal way. “The beauty of serving at this level of government, and it’s the only level of government I care to serve in, is that you know who you serve,” said Wood. One of the main ways community members reach the mayor is by seeing him active in the community. Mayor Wood loves attending Mishawaka events and going to local restaurants and stores. He jokingly said he has 50,000 bosses, in the sense that people can approach him anytime. When he goes to grocery stores, Wood ends up talking to people. “I’m usually at Meijer picking up something every day, and a five-minute grocery shopping trip takes about 45 minutes,” said Wood. Another way community members communicate with Wood is dropping by his office. “I have an open door here. I expect that any of our citizens should feel like they have complete and total access to come to city hall and walk in and if I am here, we will chat and try to solve their issues,” said Wood. Mayor Wood’s work day isn’t an 8 a.m.-5 p.m. job. His work doesn’t end in the office. His job is 24/7 because even when he gets home from work, he responds to messages from Facebook and Twitter. Attracting Talented People Attracting and retaining talented people to live and work in Mishawaka can be challenging. Wood said, “We have a great quality of life, we have a good cost of living, and we’re surrounded by many world class universities like Bethel College here in Mishawaka, I.U. South Bend, Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame.” The quality of life and the universities surrounding the city are a big part of attracting talent. “We need to invest a lot into our park system, as well as public safety to make sure Mishawaka is a safe, clean place to live, all while diversifying our economy.” Wood noted that a strong economy could help people want to live here. “We are now the retail service and commercial center of a region that’s about thirty miles out. We serve about 750,000 people,” said Wood. Healthcare is also an important factor in community growth. “We also developed a healthcare campus and attracted an anchor hospital in it. Now, Mishawaka is the healthcare and health center of the whole region,” said Wood. Mishawaka is a blooming and still growing city, filled with promise. Future Plans “I do not make campaign promises,” Wood said, when asked about things that he still wants to accomplish. However, he listed all the programs he wants to implement. His focus has been in attracting talent and getting rid of “brain drain.” He defines “brain drain” as those who leave immediately after graduating from Mishawaka and South Bend schools. Wood desires to have the atmosphere and type of city that makes people want to stay after college. He thinks that people desire an attractive city with an excellent quality of life. Therefore, Mishawaka downtown requires this focus. One example, according to Wood, is mixed-development housing going up on a large lot that once held run-down factory buildings. Wood originally saw this type of building in Fishers, Indiana. This mixed development creates housing and cleans up the city, solving a dual-necessity. Outside developers are presently working on a four-story building that will have residential floors on two, three, and four. Commercial businesses will occupy the first floor such as a coffee shop. The hope is that if downtown is nice and eventful, it will not only make graduates want to live there, but also have the people in the Michiana area want to participate in activities. Wood thinks the new housing will attract events that people will not only attend, but also walk to them. Wood is thinking of even constructing an entire trail from Bethel to the River Walk to persuade students to attend them. Bethel’s Contribution to the Community Mishawaka and Bethel have opportunities to build on their already productive relationship. “We have hired Bethel graduates and had interns in our office,” said Mayor Dave. “We want students to know about the River Walk and other places to enjoy.” Wood discussed the possibility of creating a trail connecting the Bethel campus to downtown parks and the River Walk. The leader who serves 50,000 bosses might want “to create an advisory board of Bethel students to work on mutual projects.”