Junction City Union
“I’m proud to have served our community and I would do it again in a heartbeat,” former City Commissioner Phyllis Fitzgerald said Wednesday, the day after her last official meeting as a city official.
Fitzgerald dedicated about five years to the city commission before choosing not to run for re-election last year. During that time, she served as Mayor and Vice Mayor and started multiple projects including downtown beautification and the Flint Hills Home Away From Home project, which helps new soldiers acclimate themselves to the community by pairing them with local families.
It all started with a desire to be more involved with her community.
“I’m not originally from here, but when we retired, we made Junction City our home,” Fitzgerald said, referring to herself and her husband, Keith, who served in the military alongside her. “I feel like wherever you live at you should make it your home.”
She decided to leave city government behind for family reasons. Her daughter recently gave birth to Fitzgerald’s fifth grandchild. Because her daughter is in the Air Force, Fitzgerald wants to be able to be there for her daughter and granddaughter in the event that they need support.
“My daughter said, ‘Mom, I need your help this year,’” Fitzgerald said. “And I jumped on board and said, ‘Absolutely, I will help you.’ So family’s important.”
This is her main reason, she said, for choosing not to run for another term.
“I know how I am — how I operate,” Fitzgerald said. “ I do a lot and I didn’t want to start to feel like ‘oh my goodness, how am I going to make all this happen?’”
Fitzgerald recalls herself and her husband being deployed at the same time all while having two young children at home who they had to arrange care for. They didn’t have a parent or family member to take care of the children when they were unable to and Fitzgerald is determined that this won’t happen to her daughter and grandchildren.
“That was a tough decision to not put my name back in to run for commission because I have absolutely loved every second that I have been on the commission,” she said.
Now that she has decided to roll off the commission, declining to file for reelection in 2019, she feels she has a wide range of accomplishments under her belt.
“Honestly, there’s not one particular thing that stands out above any of them,” Fitzgerald said. “I just think that the ability to energize people and get more people involved in our community and promote it and just take a look around and see things that need work and help. And you learn how there are so many people that see those same things and they want change.”
Fitzgerald believes in leading by example, she said.
“You get your hands dirty by leading by example,” she said. “And it’s teamwork. So I love the way our community looks and has come along over the last five years or so. And it’s very inspiring to see how many more people have stepped up to help to make a difference in our town.”
Fitzgerald plans to continue on with the projects she started during her tenure on the city commission, even though she will no longer be sitting on a government board.
“I’m going to continue with the flower baskets downtown — hanging baskets for flower pots — and continue with the weekly cleanup projects,” she said. “Maybe not every single weekend, but I will continue those efforts because I am very passionate about it. Because I really believe that first impressions are important, whether it’s coming into a community, going into business or really just meeting somebody.”
Fitzgerald plans to keep busy as the new executive director of the Society of the 1st Infantry Division, which she said promotes the Big Red One’s legacy while supporting its soldiers.
“I’ve always been someone that I have a lot of things going on,” she said. “I do manage the adopt-a-soldier program and I also like to work on some of the beautification projects and stuff like that.”
She took time to reflect during her last meeting as a commissioner on just what had driven her to run for office and how it felt to leave.
“I’m sad but I’m happy to have been afforded the opportunity to serve by the citizens that voted for me in 2015,” she said. “ Life sometimes tells you things you’re not expecting or wanting. It’s been 32 days today since we lost our son, Jarid. It’s been hard. My mind and heart are filled with lots of emotion. And I just like to say thank you to Junction City for electing me for this last five years and nine months to go to be one of your city commissioners and to be a bigger part of this great community that we all live in. Any one of us can do it. All you have to do is step up and try and be a part of the community, be a team member — make a difference.”
Fitzgerald said she has advised incoming city commission members Ronna Larson and Nate Butler to study up on the issues and immerse themselves in the community.
“One of the things that I learned early on is to never go to a meeting without have done your homework,” Fitzgerald said. “Read your agenda, ask the questions that you need to ask, go see the places that could be in question … Engage with the citizens of our community, as much as you can. And our friends and partners and neighbors in Fort Riley and Manhattan and the other surrounding communities — it’s very important to build that trust in that partnership and teamwork.”