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Jerry Wade brings community development background to Columbia mayor's race

Incumbent Fourth Ward councilman one of six candidates
Friday, March 19, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 7:09 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 28, 2014
Jerry Wade discusses how the city might shore up its revenue shortfall. Watch Wade answer 11 questions on issues of importance to the city.

*CORRECTION: Mr. Wade served on the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission for 15 years, chairing it for nine. An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported those numbers.

COLUMBIA — Kim Wade remembers the leaky bucket.

Jerry Wade

Jerry Wade

1221 Bradshaw Ave.

PERSONAL: Age 69. Married to Edge Wade. They have one daughter, Kim Wade.

OCCUPATION: Retired. Worked for MU Extension as community and economic development specialist from 1979 to 2000.

EDUCATION: He earned a bachelor's degree in sociology in 1964, a master's degree in community development in 1967 and a Ph.D. in rural sociology in 1978, all at MU.

RELEVANT BACKGROUND: Fourth Ward representative on the Columbia City Council since 2007; served 15 years* on the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission; chaired the commission for nine years*.

ON THE WEB: Wade's campaign Web site is jerrywade.org. He also has a Twitter account (username: WadeForMayor) and a Facebook page.

 


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She remembers her dad, standing before residents of some small Missouri town while she looked on, the only child who tagged along on one of her father’s work trips. And she remembers that during his presentation he poured water into a bucket then watched it leak onto the floor.

It was a metaphor for the money leaving the residents' town.

"Where are all these dollars going," he asked? "Where is the money leaving your community?"

As a community development professional, it was her dad's job to help communities find a way to get the most from what they had.

"That was very exciting for me as a kid," Kim says. "Seeing my dad in action. Seeing how groups of citizens could come together to plan something and make the community better."

Jerry Wade grew up in one of those communities.

"I was about 4 when I got my first chores responsibility," he says, describing the farm in northwest Iowa where he was raised. "Four hundred acres of corn, beans, cattle and hogs."

Wade's father and uncle had built it from scratch, eventually commanding 440 acres of mostly rented farmland. The whole family worked hard. And although a genetic disease had left her blind, Wade’s mother ran the household and did all of the cooking and cleaning for Wade, his younger brother, his dad and uncle.

"I grew up not thinking of my mother as having a disability," Wade says.

The number of family farms in the United States shrank dramatically during the 1950s. Farming became big business, and a lot of the smaller operations couldn't compete. Wade's family eventually folded the farm and moved to Havelock in northwest Iowa.

"It was a typical declining small rural community," Wade says of the town where he graduated from high school. His father spent the rest of his life working different jobs in town, earning just enough money to make ends meet.

"It completely shaped him," Kim says of Wade. "He saw firsthand what was happening with family farms when corporate farming came into prominence. He saw what happened to the whole fabric of a community when families were no longer able to support themselves on family farms."

Wade says he always knew he would go to college. His parents insisted, but when the time came, the family was struggling to get by. He enrolled at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion — just across the state line — and worked hard to pay his own way during the first few years.

Good work was hard to find. Wade says the best he could do in Havelock was farm labor.

"We made a family decision that I had to do something different," Wade says. "There was no way I could get the money to go back to school at 50 cents an hour."

So he took a year off and moved to Kansas City where he became a union iron worker. The money was good, and a year later he enrolled as a senior at MU, all the while continuing to work in construction.

Wade says his handiwork is a part of several buildings in Columbia, including Fairview and Blue Ridge elementary schools, Oak Towers and the Westlake Hardware store on Business Loop 70.

A new purpose

When Wade went back to school, he had a renewed sense of purpose. He discovered the Department of Community Development — one of only a few such programs in the country at the time — and became enamored with the field of study focused on bringing economic growth and leadership to flagging communities.

"I found the place that fit and where I wanted to build my career," he says.

He also found a girl.

"He had lovely, long curly eyelashes and Omar Sharif eyes," says Edge Wade, Jerry's wife of 45 years. "We had an agreement. If Omar Sharif ever called he wouldn't hold it against me and if Katharine Hepburn ever called him. ..."

(Indeed, if you Google the actor from "Lawrence of Arabia," you'll see a man who bears a striking resemblance to Jerry Wade).

Edge and Jerry Wade met through mutual friends during Wade's first semester at MU. They dated off and on, then married in the spring of 1965.

"He had a gentleness and an intensity and a sincerity," Edge Wade says. "He was a whole person."

Their time at MU was formative. Wade completed his master's degree, and Edge Wade her bachelor's degree in journalism. But Wade wasn't through with school.

"I can remember him making the decision to go for his Ph.D. because he wanted something better for his family,” Edge Wade says. “In the end, he would be doing something that he knew was right and important and wouldn’t be the most financially rewarding decision for us.”

After earning his Ph.D. in rural sociology in the early 1970s, Wade took a job at what is now the University of Illinois at Springfield (formerly Sangamon State University). It was a big move for a young family with firm roots in Missouri, and ultimately one that didn't take.

"My wife and I discovered that there is a significant cultural break called the Mississippi River," Wade says. "We discovered that we fit in Columbia, Missouri, not Springfield, Illinois."

In 1979, Wade took a job with MU Extension as a state specialist in community and economic development. The job took him around the state to work with local governments and citizen groups to better their communities.

Now retired from his role with MU Extension, he says those years of helping others shaped his approach to government.

"I come to public service in Columbia with a lot of experience on the ground," he says.

Starting in politics

Wade's run in city government began when he joined the Planning and Zoning Commission in 1995. Rex Campbell, then Fourth Ward city councilman, nominated him for the position.

“Jerry is very bright,” Campbell says. “He has his own way of doing things. You can’t push him. He’s got to make up his own mind and do it the way he wants.”

The two have a long history. Wade was a student of Campbell's when he pursued his Ph.D. (Fourth Ward candidate Tracy Greever-Rice is also a former student). Wade and Campbell even co-wrote a book while Wade was still in school. The book was called "Society and Environment: The Coming Collision."

Campbell says Wade's background in community development influences his civic service.

"You're not telling people what to do but facilitating others in helping them decide what to do," Campbell says. "Jerry Wade is a firm believer in that idea."

Campbell says he thinks Wade has known for a while what his next move would be.

"I think he has been aiming at the mayor's job most of the time he's been on the council," Campbell says.

Edge Wade isn't crazy about the things that come with being married to a candidate.

"Jerry's public life has an effect of severely limiting my speech," she says. "People who know me well will tell you, if they're speaking nicely, that I am opinionated."

Edge Wade is an avid bird watcher and a prolific contributor to the Audubon Society of Missouri's bird tracking program. She says she doesn't always feel comfortable at the "wine and cheese" events.

“And I spell that with an ‘h,’” she says. "I’m much more comfortable in the woods watching birds than in a room full of people."

Opening this campaign

It’s a Saturday afternoon in March, and Wade is standing just offstage at the Underground Cafe in downtown Columbia. The room is bustling with people in yellow-and-black Wade campaign shirts and a Dixieland band is onstage. Wade’s grandchildren are handing out buttons. Edge Wade is working the room, shaking hands, saying hello to friends and supporters.

Wade is holding a brown top hat.   

As the band finishes its number, he walks to the front of the stage, puts on the hat and lowers the microphone.

“I’ve always wanted to give a stump speech, and this seemed like the hat to do it in,” he says.

If it’s a stump speech, it’s a fiery one. He rattles off the main planks of his campaign platform: promoting strong neighborhoods, helping people work together, reducing crime and promoting “real estate projects that make us proud of how we’re growing.”

The last part is aimed at Bob McDavid, who Wade says has begun to echo his own positions on everything but downtown surveillance cameras. (Wade opposes cameras; McDavid is the only candidate to come out strongly in support of them.)

Wade tells the crowd that they can tell a lot about the future McDavid represents by considering his supporters. In a mocking tone, he reads aloud from an opinion piece by Inside Columbia publisher Fred Parry, in which Parry endorses McDavid and calls for the removal of Third Ward councilman Karl Skala and Wade from city government.

“Folks, this is your city, too,” he says to loud applause.

The speech ends, and the band picks up where it left off. Wade will give the speech two more times during the three-hour campaign event.

Among the many friends and supporters in attendance is Will Littrell. His father was an adviser to Wade when he was in the community development program at MU. Littrell says he grew up around the Wades and has known Kim since they were both infants.

“We were crib mates,” he says.

As someone who grew up in a household dominated by the study of community development, Littrell says Wade's background is essential to understanding what drives him.

“If he’d wanted to he could have been elected to Fourth Ward for life,” Littrell says. “This isn’t about power or fame or anything like that. It’s about helping the community.”


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Comments

Dale Jones March 20, 2010 | 2:44 p.m.

Its clear by the way he acts on the City Council he doesn't have any professional management background or business experience. Book Smart is only the beginning. He also lacks common sense. Vote for McDavid who has demostrated proven successful management experience!!! We need to get new people on the City Council!!!

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