Goshen News, Goshen, IN

April 7, 2013

Women calling the shots in Elkhart County politics

By SHERRY VAN ARSDALL
THE GOSHEN NEWS

GOSHEN — Here in Elkhart County, where change can sometimes seem slow, two local women hold the top spot in their respective political parties.

With the retirement of Republican Party Chairman Dale Stickel last month, Mary Nisly of Goshen was elected as the county’s first GOP chairwoman. Her counterpart, Elkhart’s Shari Mellin, became the Elkhart County’s first Democratic chairwoman back in 2006 and still leads the party.

“It’s an honor,” a smiling Nisly said last week. “It’s a real accomplishment and I hope to do Elkhart County proud.”

Nisly had been contemplating seeking the position since last summer.

“I started in June when the vice chair said she was retiring and would I be interested,” Nisly said. “A couple months later chairman Dale Stickel was going to retire and asked if I would be interested in running for the chair.”

She said she became familiar how the party was run when she was secretary and had Prudy Holzhausen, the vice chairwoman of the party, as a mentor for a year.

“I knew I could do it,” Nisly said.

Her duties as GOP chairwoman are varied and will keep her busy in the position since she’s also a full-time mother and a full-time nurse at IU Health Goshen Wound Center. As the chief administrator of the Elkhart County GOP, Nisly will oversee the party’s activities and determine goals and objectives for the current year, as well as the upcoming races in 2014 and in 2016.

She’ll also establish a budget and organize precinct committee chairpersons who are responsible to make sure there are enough poll workers to staff their precinct.

“I represent Elkhart County when I participate in state (GOP) programs,” Nisly said. “I am the face of Elkhart County.”

Nisly hopes to set up an outreach team and an activities director coordinator to focus on the population of Elkhart County and finding out why people aren’t voting in elections. The activities director would coordinate with all the parades and other community events so the people in those communities can meet the candidates, she added.

“I’m a dreamer and love to come up with ideas and goals,” Nisly said. “I try to do a lot of things at one time and I need to remember to break it down and not get overwhelmed.”

Democrats

As for Mellin, she said it has been a great honor for her to lead Elkhart County’s Democratic Party

And her job hasn’t been easy. If you’re a Democratic candidate in Elkhart County, you’re a longshot, which has been a challenge for Mellin during her seven-year term.

“We haven’t had a Elkhart County Democrat elected in over 30 years,” Mellin said. “It’s difficult to get people to run in Elkhart County. It’s expensive and time-consuming with little chance that they will win. We still will try to win those positions.”

Mellin says she is busy making plans for next year’s elections, focusing on voter registration and hoping to fire up younger voters and potential candidates for local and state offices.

“It’s always busy and it’s stressful,” Mellin said, “but I try to take it in stride.”

Mellin said she is proud of the achievements that have taken place during her years of office.

“When I took over they weren’t having regular meetings, there was no contact within the Democrat community, no website or other social media,” she said. “I’ve helped to bring a lot more communication into the monthly meetings when we meet.”

As a result of her hard work, Mellin was elected to the Democratic National Committee last summer.

“That’s a nice honor and they have meetings in (Washington) D.C.,” Mellin said. “It gives me a seat at the state level and I’m able to share Elkhart County concerns to the state board level. They need to hear what our issues are and help as needed.”

This will be Mellin’s last term as chairwoman since she’s decided not to run for re-election in four years.