Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Who We Are

March 5, 2014

WHO WE ARE: Nappanee Mayor Larry Thompson reflects on city’s past, ponders future

NAPPANEE — Mayor Larry Thompson announced in his state of the city address in January that he would not seek a sixth term. When asked what went into that decision, he cited several factors.

“We have our family business to operate and I’m still needed here,” he said. “I’m 61 years old so I hope to finish strong at home.”

That business — Thompson, Lengacher and Yoder Funeral Home — is a ministry for Thompson and his wife, Linda, who has been an invaluable help throughout his career, he said. But Thompson admitted he’d also like to get involved in other ministries. After all, being mayor was never something that really crossed his mind.

“I never intended to be mayor,” Thompson said. “Bobbi Wilson came knocking on my door and I thought she was nuts. Honestly, I’m in favor of term limits, so these last couple of times I felt I was breaking my own rules.”

When his mayoral career is completed at the end of next year, he will have served five terms, which is 20 years.

“I feel there’s a whole new generation out there ready to serve,” he said.

Getting things done

Over those years Thompson feels the office has become a full-time position, and the new mayor will likely be a full-time mayor.

“Nappanee is big enough that we need to be better represented in Indianapolis,” he said.

Thompson believes his background as a funeral director and his years of volunteering as an emergency medical technician and then as a firefighter positioned him to be “a small town mayor,” in that he feels he’s given everyone, no matter their background or issue, a listening ear and a helping hand.

He said that background also formed his style of leadership, which is “bringing people together who can help get things done.”

One example that stands out to Thompson is the aftermath of the Oct. 18, 2007, tornado. The manner in which the clean-up was handled, the minimal amount of money that was used and the establishment of emergency assistance funding for affected residents were all because of people coming together and working together.

“We’ve quietly tried to keep Nappanee moving forward,” Thompson said, “whether that be through improvements to downtown, improving the park system with a softball complex, a new south side park, improvements to the golf course, the purchase of the old Central School building to house the Boys and Girls Club and the Elder Haus Senior Center, the West Industrial Park, the bike path or the Nappanee Center. All those projects had someone joining to help champion the cause one way or another.”

Speaking of partnerships, Thompson said he and Clerk-Treasurer Kim Ingle have had a great one.

“All Kim has done is challenge me to find resources and have a plan (for any project) and there’s not one that she hasn’t helped me finance,” Thompson said. “She just made me do my due diligence, as she should. I hope the new mayor and the new clerk have that same relationship.”

Combining the city’s three Tax Increment Finance Districts into one is a big part of Thompson’s legacy.

“Future clerks and future councils will understand connecting the TIFs and building the West Industrial Park was a coup for Nappanee,” he said.

Thompson also believes building better relationships between the Amish and non-Amish communities has made Nappanee stronger. Some projects, including the well field and soccer complex, have been in the works for a decade.

Thompson said some projects in the works will carry Nappanee into the future including the potential development of 200 acres of industrial space out by the municipal airport.

“By building the partnerships we have I don’t think anyone would work to undo them,” Thompson said. “They serve the community well. I hope whoever is next will build on what we’ve done.”

Challenges in the future will continue to be finances and being able to pay for services with less revenue. Thompson also mentioned continued industrial and retail growth as challenges moving forward. For residents, the challenges are to support the local businesses and realize the potential in Nappanee’s tourism industry.

“Everybody wants growth,” Thompson said. “I hope the vision is the same to provide growth while maintaining Nappanee as a good place to come and raise a family.”

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Three Goshen elementary schools — Chandler, Chamberlain and West Goshen — are providing free meals to all students during the school year as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Provision of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Nearly 80 percent of students at Chandler, 89 percent of students at Chamberlain and 78 percent of students at West Goshen already qualify for free or reduced-price lunches based on their family income. How do you feel about the new lunch program?

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