Jody Smith

Citizen from Palo Alto County, IA

By New York Times columnist George Vecsey
JAN. 5, 1972

AYRSHIRE, Iowa, Jan. 4 —It isn't every day that Ayrshire inaugurates the youngest mayor in the United States, so it was only fitting that the school gym was packed with more people than Ayrshire's population of 273 last night for the inaugural ball of 19‐year‐old Jody Smith.

Lest all the erstwhile Che Guevaras on the radical‐liberal seacoasts take this as a milestone in the revolution, they might consider first that Mr. Smith has short hair, ran on ‘a promise to blacktop more country roads and was thrilled to receive a telephone call from President Nixon.

Iowans do not do things impulsively. When Meredith Willson was trying to describe his home state in “The Music Man,” the best adjective he came up with was “stubborn.”

With so much of themselves rooted in the rich chocolate‐colored earth (the corn stubble poking through flecks of snow on this freezing day), Iowans are not likely to elect Mark Rudd mayor—and their voting patterns are worth noting. Ayrshire's district has voted a majority for the Presidential winner every four years since 1896.

The Latest Gowns

And the sturdy corn farmers and merchants of the sur

rounding villages felt secure enough about Mayor Smith to flock to the Ayrshire gym last night. Many of their wives dressed up in the latest long gowns from Omaha or tapered pants suits purchased in Minneapolis. The costume director from “The Music Man” would never have approved.

“You don't see my bib overalls tonight,” said James M. Thompson, the Mayor of nearby Emmetsburg, a man in his 30's with a broad, mod tie. His wife, Beverly, was elegant in a long black skirt and a frilly white blouse. (She confided that the stylishly slit skirt let in too much of the near‐zero weather.) “We're pretty up‐to‐date here,” Mayor Thompson continued. “We read a lot and we stay informed.”

The new Mayor, Mr. Smith, capped off his speech by reading an inspirational poem titled “Small Towns” by an unknown author, copied from a wall plaque sold in the service station ("Elmer's Jyp Joint") of his father. The guests said it was a nice speech.

“I believe this is the best generation of young people ever,” said Dick Kibbee, a chunky, well‐spoken farmer. “Either we're going to get people like Jody Smith or our educational system isn't worth a cent.”

Mr. Smith is definitely a product of Ayrshire, since both of his parents are lifelong residents of the little town, which is just a few blocks of homes and stores at a country crossroads. The people here remember the tall, fleshy young man as a hard worker, not a superstar.

(“The President asked me if I played sports,” the Mayor recalled. “I said, I refereed kids’ games but I didn't play much because I was too clumsy. President Nixon said that was all right—he was clumsy as a boy, too.“)

Now he is a commuting freshman at Iowa Lakes Community College in Emmetsburg, driving an Ayrshire schodl bus in the morning before his own classes. And when the voting age was dropped to 18 last year, he didn't just settle for registering. He filed for Mayor, too.

“There was no problem with the incumbent,” Mr. Smith said. “But he was around 70 and he had been in office for nine years. I told people I would work harder for them. Then I promised to blacktop more roads. That seemed to get to them. They don't like hot oil poured on the roads the way it's being done.”

On election day, Mr. Smith won by 83 votes to 35, making him the youngest Mayor in the United States by four months. After his swearing‐in yesterday morning, he presided over his first council meeting, receiving the village's documents packed in an empty Miller High Life carton.

He tried to pass an ordinance restricting the use of snowmobiles, but he was turned down by the council, politely. Then he took home law books and studied how to administer the village ordinances, how to levy fines, how to issue warrants for arrest.

As a 19‐year‐old Mayor he can issue a license to a tavern—but cannot buy a beer. Also, he can marry an eligible couple—but needs his parents’ permission to be married himself. However, he didn't seem eager to try either beer or matrimony yesterday, preferring to chat with his folks as they drove in for the big celebration.

The Smiths’ modern, one floor home (three bedrooms, living room and kitchen area) was packed by mid afternoon with an incongruous potpourri of out‐of‐town journalists and relatives from Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois. His mother was bustling about making coffee, answering the phone and providing ham sandwiches and cookies.

Jody Smith seemed bemused by the commotion and was frequently distracted from what he called “the interview” by the teasing of his family.

No Antiwar Movement

“Mayor, you're going to have to sleep on the floor tonight,” his mother said. “We need your room for your aunt and uncle.”

In between the family banter, he noted that he was a Republican, was not a radical and that, in his belief, most of the nation's youth were like him.

“Youth tends to be on the liberal side,” he said. “And we want to improve things. But most of us are still more comfortable in short hair and suits.”

Last night at the ball, the feelings seemed to echo the Mayor's sentiments. The president of the high school's senior class, Danny Noonan, said he knew of no “movement” or antiwar sentiment in Ayrshire.

“I'm not saying we like war,” he said. “But if it's there, you've got to fight.”

There was no other talk of the war and not even much talk of politics. Even though Ayrshire is often studied in Presidential campaigns, because of its bellwether tendencies, the men said it was still too early to feel the pulse.

“Nixon would win if, the. election were held tomorrow,” Mr. Thompson said.’ “Some of the farmers may be mad at him right now, but it's too soon to tell.”

The people seemed more concerned with applauding their new Mayor than dealing in national topics last night. They sat in the bleachers of the gym, which mercifully avoids the old‐sneaker aroma of most gyms.

When the speeches were over, the guests at the ball danced to the swing music of Billy Redman and His Band from Sheldon, Iowa, in their blue blazers that might have been sold by “Professor” Harold Hill, The Music Man, himself. Dancers held each other by the shoulders and turned slowly, calmly. The guests cheered when somebody spread sawdust on the gym floor.

Between dances the guests repaired to the school cafeteria for fruit punch, coffee and boxed crackers.

Mayor Smith—when he was not dancing with his aunts or some of the high school girls—spent time chatting with a few Iowa politicians, a broad smile constantly on his face, his hands folded over his belt, rocking his weight from foot to foot. People walked by and shook his hand.

“That boy is going places,” they agreed.

Palo Alto County, IA


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