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MICHELLE DISTLER A Q&A with Shawnee’s mayor
Interview by Beth Kornegay | Photography by Kevin Anderson
n addition to being mayor, Michelle Distler is a lifelong Shawnee resident, mother, full time security analyst and volunteer with several organizations. Here, Mayor Distler talks about her passion for Shawnee, why it’s important to work with community organizations and how her life has changed for the better as mayor.
Defense on behalf of the City of Shawnee. During lunch, Major General Tafanelli invited me to a refueling mission of the Air Force Kansas Air National Guard. During the mission, we refueled a B-52 over Arkansas in a KC-135 stratotanker at 400mph! Additionally, I got to take the trip of a lifetime to visit our sister cities in Erfurt, Germany, and Pittem, Belgium.
SM: Why did you want to become mayor? MD: Becoming mayor happened because of the infinite love I have for Shawnee’s past, present, and future. I care deeply about protecting that history as well as the future and want every resident to feel as though they have a voice and are heard and that we are working together. I have always responded and been accessible.
SM: What other experiences have you had as part of your mayoral mission that give back to the community? Why are those important? MD: I volunteer for several organizations. I am a lifetime member of the VFW Auxiliary and one very important event that my daughter Jeydan and I volunteer at every year is putting the flags up and taking them down for Flags for Freedom. I love driving down Johnson Drive and seeing all the flags flying; it invokes such pride in me to see that sea of patriotic colors. I am one of the founding members of Shawnee’s Community Emergency Response Team and have several hours of FEMA training to be able to help in case of emergency. Additionally I am HAM radio- and CPR-certified in case something was to happen while I am out and about in the community. I am a member of the Citizen’s Police Academy Alumni Association and volunteer every opportunity with our amazing police department, whether that means helping with traffic, role playing, or a DUI checkpoint. I have two miles of highway that I adopted and clean in memory of my uncle Jerry. I’ve done a lot of work for Special Olympics over the years including teaching job skills, fundraising, photography, graphic design, or volunteering at their events. The American Diabetes Association is also close to my heart, so I have volunteered over the years for that organization as well. I also adopt rescue animals.
SM: What is the best part of being mayor? MD: Those moments when you feel like you have made a difference with someone and you were able to do something to help them. I have been overwhelmed with emotion a few times since becoming mayor. Once when I could give the opportunity to a very special man to light the mayor’s Christmas tree, to see the pure joy in his eyes. I also had the opportunity to meet Charles Goslin, Shawnee’s amazing artist, whose work I have loved my entire life. He shared stories of Shawnee’s past and, unknown to me, painted me into his beautiful historical mural at city hall. Another time was when employees joined at city hall and sang “Happy Birthday” to me and surprised me with a post on Facebook. SM: What is something you would not have been able to do if you weren’t mayor? MD: I had the opportunity to go to the Pentagon to accept the Freedom Award from the Department of
I have donated my hair to Locks of Love a few times, and this year I donated my hair to the Pantene Beautiful Lengths for women fighting cancer. I’ve donated over 10 feet of hair over the past several years to a few different organizations. SM: Why are hands-on experiences as the mayor important to you? MD: They started out as a way for me to experience the jobs that city personnel do for our city. It did not matter if it was hot, raining, cold, or that I was eaten alive with hundreds of chigger bites, I wanted to shadow them and experience their day. We have the best of the best in Shawnee, and I am so proud of the work they do. I have experienced almost every job within the city. While they are humble and will tell you they are “just doing their job,” I was awestruck at the job they do. SM: How are you putting your personal touch on the position of mayor? MD: Some things I implemented in my first year to recognize the good in Shawnee include a coin that I give for special recognition. I give “You’ve been spotted by the Mayor” cards when someone provides great service. During monthly coffees and quarterly Q&As, I give residents updates on the city. For elementary students, I started the guest councilmember program so they can come be involved in local government. For older students, an essay contest to become mayor for a day. I implemented the Good Neighbor Award; I send notes for things being celebrated, personally welcome new businesses, opened the state of the city to the public, and many other things to recognize and encourage good. The world needs more good—why not start in Shawnee?