Jeffersontown has a rich mayor history
Writer / Beth Wilder, Director Jeffersontown Historical Museum
Jeffersontown is known for having everything one could hope for in a city — friendly residents, excellent services and one of the finest industrial parks in the country. The town is expertly run by a mayor and eight city council members, elected by the residents. But did you know that Jeffersontown did not even officially have a mayor until 1953?
The City of Jeffersontown was incorporated on May 3, 1797, and seven local trustees were appointed by the Kentucky General Assembly at that time. Elections were held every couple of years, and the five to seven trustees voted in by the residents chose a chairman from amongst themselves.
Early records show that the “town of Jefferson” may not have been the easiest place to govern, and of the seven original trustees who were appointed in 1797, four of them resigned by 1799, only two months after their first recorded meeting. Most of Jeffersontown’s pioneers were of German, Scottish or Irish descent, with strong-willed temperaments that did not take kindly to being told what to do.
Of course, they were inexperienced at politics to begin with. Most of them primarily settled in the area to farm, and the United States itself was relatively new at learning how to govern a democracy. The trustees managed over the next 150 years to run the town rather well though, with laws enacted to ensure the safety and well-being of its residents.
In 1946, the Board of Trustees for Jeffersontown elected Mrs. Ida Burdon as their first female chairman. Quite often, she has been referred to as the town’s first mayor, but, in reality, Jeffersontown was not even eligible to have a mayor of its own until 1950, when the town’s population was recorded as 1,246 — falling into the 1,000 to 3,000 population group required to be a fifth-class city. Still, it was not until 1952 that Jeffersontown officially moved into fifth-class city classification, when Gov. Lawrence W. Wetherby at Frankfort approved the necessary legislation.
The first mayoral elections were held in 1953, and James Bowles, who had been chairman of the Board of Trustees, was elected as Jeffersontown’s first official mayor. His tenure did not last long, though. He served from August 1953 to December 1954, resigning to focus on his accounting business, as he only received $30 a month as mayor Jack Quick succeeded Mayor Bowles and served as mayor from December 1954 to August 1955. At the time, the city had an annual budget of about $5,000.
Quick later became president of the Jeffersontown Chamber of Commerce.
Jack Orlandi served as mayor from 1955-1957. He was a firm believer in transparency of the municipal government and gladly provided information to the public. During his tenure, the mayor’s salary increased to a whopping $35 a month.
Next came Ira White, who worked hard to annex property to raise Jeffersontown’s status to a 4th class city. When he moved outside the city limits in June 1959, he turned in his resignation, recommending William Zulauf as his replacement.
Zulauf served out the 1959 term, and then was elected as mayor from January 1960 to December 1961.
Zulauf was replaced by Franklin Chambers, who served as Mayor of Jeffersontown from January 1964 to December 1973. Chambers accomplished much for the City of Jeffersontown, including the construction of the current City Hall building and annexation of land to start the Bluegrass Research & Industrial Park. During his tenure, gaslights were installed on the town square, and the Gaslight Festival was created in order to celebrate the new look of the city.
Herb Meyer served as mayor from January 1974 to April 1976. Before taking on that role, Meyer had served six years on Jeffersontown’s Fire Department and 15 years in its Police Department — 12 of those years as Chief of Police.
Meyer was succeeded by Owen Potts, who served from April 1976 to December 1981. Potts put a great deal of effort into correcting drainage problems in Jeffersontown, as well as renovating the old Sunshine Lodge into a new headquarters for the police.
Daniel Ruckriegel became a fixture in Jeffersontown, serving five terms as mayor from January 1982 to January 2001. He placed Jeffersontown far ahead of other cities in terms of growth, jobs and prosperity. As the Jeffersontown News-Leader pointed out upon his retirement in 2001, “Ruckriegel’s amazing success was based on it was hard to argue with success.”
Jeffersontown residents were stunned when Ruckriegel decided to step down, but his shoes were well-filled by Clay Foreman, whom he suggested as his replacement. Foreman focused on quality of life issues for Jeffersontown, such as city services, street maintenance and safe neighborhoods, all while keeping local taxes low. Foreman served from January 2001 to December 2010.
Mayor Bill Dieruf, who began his tenure in January 2011, works tirelessly to promote and enhance programs for all Jeffersontown’s residents — from children to seniors and everyone in-between. Having grown up in Jeffersontown and owning the oldest family-owned business in town (Dieruf Hardware), Mayor Dieruf is proud to serve the oldest incorporated city in Jefferson County and is a firm believer in the preservation of its history for future generations.
He truly cares about the town he serves, and it shows.
Let us not forget, however, the many council members who have also served Jeffersontown throughout the years, providing insight and new perspectives on every aspect of city government. While Jeffersontown’s mayors serve 4-year terms, the council members are elected for two-year terms. Most of the mayors who have served Jeffersontown were at one time or another council members themselves, gaining first-hand knowledge of what it takes to run a city as progressive and large as Jeffersontown has become over the years.
Jeffersontown residents owe a great amount of thanks to all the leaders, past and present, who have made Jeffersontown the remarkable city that it is today.