BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — When Rebecca Conklin Kleiboemer, Mindy Curry and Bob Keogh ran for Whitehouse Village Council seats in 2015, the village looked a little different.
Downtown streetscaping was not yet underway, the park’s playground was in need of replacement, the Veterans Memorial Park was still just a plan and the Village Social pocket park wasn’t even on their radar.
Through two terms, financial ups and downs and a pandemic, each of the three council members is departing with institutional knowledge and experience that can only come from serving.
The Mirror caught up with each of them during their final weeks in office:
Bob Keogh was first on the scene, as he was appointed to Whitehouse Village Council in August 2015 to replace Dennis Recker, an elected council member who was moving out of town.
“I had a pretty good idea of what to expect,” Keogh said. “I had served on the original Charter Review Commission and then on the Board of Zoning Appeals for 19 years.”
After three months in office, Keogh won a seat in the general election and was elected four years later for a second term.
“I would advise anyone new to council to be patient and listen to the opinions of others,” Keogh said. “Remember, if two people agree on everything, you don’t need one of them.”
Over the years, Keogh learned firsthand just how much goes into operating a village, from managing the finances to keeping the streets patrolled and cleaned.
“I think we have built a village that the residents can be proud of,” he said. “We receive a lot of compliments from residents of other communities who wish their towns could be like Whitehouse.”
While Keogh didn’t earn his bid at re-election in November, he said he has no aspirations for further office at this point, although he would be open to a short-term role that would assist the village.
“Whitehouse has been good to me and my family for 40 years,” he said. “I’m glad I had the opportunity to give a little back.”
When Whitehouse Village Council planned to move a circa-1900 Civil War statue from its home in Whitehouse Park down the street to a then-planned Veterans Memorial Park in 2015, Mindy Curry decided to speak up.
The statue – which was in need of some serious repairs – had been paid for by four Whitehouse Civil War veterans.
“That’s the only historical landmark in the village that has never been moved. That’s why I fought so hard to have it remain at the front of the park,” said Curry. “That’s what got me involved in the council meetings and what got me to run for a council seat.”
She was elected in November 2015 and took office in January 2016. As a new member on council, Curry voted in favor of having the statue professionally renovated and saw it returned to its base in the park in time for Veterans Day 2016.
“It was neat to have that start and then see it restored and know that it could never be moved anyplace else,” Curry said.
During her first term in office, Curry was involved in making other improvements to Whitehouse Park as well – voting in favor of an investment to replace aging playground equipment, renovate an old ice skating pad for pickleball courts and adding exercise equipment.
“I’m in favor of anything that gets young people outdoors and being active,” she said. “And this will be around for such a long time and have such an impact on the community.”
The renovation of the shelter house in the park and the improvements to the downtown streetscaping will also have long-lasting impacts for residents.
“It would have been nice to see the next phase of the park revitalization project,” she noted, referring to plans to add more playground equipment. That was put on hold during the pandemic and remains off the table due to finances.
As she wraps up her eighth year in office, Curry was also able to see another outdoor activity from her “wish list” come to fruition: disc golf. Seeing disc golf courses throughout the United States gain in popularity and bring in visitors for tournaments, she brought the idea up several times. This summer, resident Chuck Kethel came to council with a proposal to install a course in Sandra Park – and it was approved.
During her tenure, Curry was also part of decisions that will have lasting impacts, including the installation of a traffic signal at Finzel and Weckerly roads, adding handicapped parking in the downtown area and setting up a safe meeting area for internet sales transactions at the police department. She also saw the village contract for water with the Toledo Area Water Authority and for refuse and recycling pickup with ARS. And she was a part of the historic collaboration of Waterville, Waterville Township and Whitehouse on creating a fire co-op and the Fallen Timbers Union Cemetery District.
Only one item remains on her wish list that still might come home to roost: allowing chickens in the village.
“It’s nothing that I personally wanted, but other people did. Other area municipalities allow chickens, and they don’t have any problems,” Curry said. “Everything is moving toward sustainability and being able to provide for yourself. It’s something simple that we could do.”
While discussed earlier this year, the matter was tabled and may be brought up by the next council, which has three new members.
Another item on her wish list that didn’t get finished: installing a wheelchair- and stroller-accessible dock on the small quarry so that anyone can go fishing.
“I’d like to see the village become ADA-compliant. That’s why we went with the swing at the park and handicapped parking … to move toward being more friendly,” she said.
One area that Curry feels was extremely successful is pushing for more transparency.
“I went out of my way to get the community involved as much as possible. Participation at meetings isn’t very high, but having that information out there and available to watch online makes a difference,” she said.
Curry decided not to re-run for office as she plans to move to Swanton Township to be with her boyfriend.
“Maybe I’ll get involved in politics. You never know. I haven’t closed that door,” she said.
Reading a zoning code line by line might seem boring to some, but not to Rebecca Conklin Kleiboemer, who is wrapping up her eighth year on village council.
“That was one of the first big projects when I got onto council and I just loved it,” she said. “It was essentially proofreading to make sure it served the needs of the community.”
An experienced journalist and copy editor, Conklin Kleiboemer was used to seeing council meetings from the other side of the table before she ran for office. As she left The Toledo Blade to stay home with her youngest son, she got involved with the Whitehouse Arts Commission, serving with then-Mayor Angie Kuhn.
“That was really neat. It was citizens and elected officials working together, which is the heart of what Whitehouse really tries to do. I had the desire to serve my community, so I decided to run for office.”
Replacing the playground equipment and renovating Whitehouse Park was one of her first big projects – and one that will benefit families for generations. Conklin Kleiboemer formed an ad hoc citizen committee that looked through equipment catalogs, then presented ideas to parents and children at the playground to make sure the ideas would meet their needs. She incorporated ways to serve adults as well, like implementing a suggestion from Julie Westenfelder at Julie’s Fitness Studio to add exercise equipment and converting the old ice rink into pickleball courts based on a plan presented by local enthusiasts.
Conklin Kleiboemer drew up a budget and a presentation to sell the idea to council.
“We used one of our Committee of the Whole meetings to walk to the park and look at all of the challenges and opportunities. That helped a lot,” she said. “It makes me feel so good when that park is full of people. It’s the beating heart of our village. It’s key to forming a good community.”
The COVID-19 pandemic tabled capital projects, then revenue issues put on hold other planned im-provements to the park, including replacing another playground structure and adding more handicapped-accessible elements.
“Now I can be the citizen going before council and advocating for those improvements,” she said.
Working through the pandemic had its impediments for the village but it also brought about remarkable opportunity, as public meetings were allowed to be held remotely for the first time in Ohio history. Residents were able to tune into meetings online, and the livestream continues today as council returned to mandated in-person public meetings.
“It was an important way council helped keep our staff safe, too, so that we could continue to provide services,” she said.
Another first for the village was taking part in the newly formed fire co-op and Fallen Timbers Union Cemetery District (FTUCD), which united Whitehouse, Waterville and Waterville Township to provide fire and rescue service and to care for the five area cemeteries. Appointed to the cemetery board as Whitehouse’s first trustee, Conklin Kleib-oemer worked with other area leaders to roll out a plan and make sure that improvements were made to the cemeteries.
“We had some stumbles, but we were able to work them out so that any future joint district with our three communities will be easier now,” she said. “I liked the challenge of it.”
When she took her seat on council, Conklin Kleiboemer was the youngest member at 41, and the only one with a young child still at home. She believes that having a council with members of all ages benefits the village.
“We do need people who know what it’s like to have a young family, because that’s the fastest growing demographic in our village,” she said. “We have to think of our littlest residents when making decisions.”
While a council member, Conklin Kleiboemer often encountered residents unfamiliar with government processes and made it a priority to explain how they worked. Now, she is looking into creating a citizens’ academy, working with other former council members and trustees from the area to encourage others to be more engaged – or even prepare to run for office.
“Our Citizens Police Academy was so successful, and residents seemed to enjoy it,” she said. “I want to work with others in our area municipalities to offer an academy that will give everyone a behind-the-scenes perspective to government and civics.”
As she departs office, Conklin Kleiboemer also will have a wider community on her mind – Lucas County – as she takes on the role of financial development coordinator for the Family and Child Abuse Prevention Center.