By Tony Hooker
Thelma “Boots” Blaney has always had an interest in public service.
She first got interested in politics and serving her community when she and her husband John lived in Camargo, and she served on the village board. Later, it manifested itself in her decision to run for mayor, ultimately winning the seat and serving in the role for one term before family medical issues influenced her not to run for a second term. I recently sat down with the proud VGHS class of 1970 graduate to learn more about her calling to serve, as well as some of her recent endeavors.
Are you a Villa Grovian? Did you graduate from VGHS?
Yes, I did, Class of 1970.
Why did you get involved in all of your public service stuff?
<laughing> I ask myself that, quite often! To be honest, I always feel that if you don’t like the way things are going and you don’t get involved, your opinion isn’t really something that matters. People who know me know that I’m very opinionated, so I always felt that if I’m going to voice my opinions then I need to have something to back it up. This is my town and I’ve lived here all my life and I want it to improve.
I think that the current city administration has done a good job with that. Would you agree?
I totally agree. <smiling> Not only because you and I are on the council! She’s (Mayor Eversole Gunter) had good backing and people are very supportive. I think we have a good group of people who look outside the box and question things. If we have a problem, we bring it up. We don’t just let it go or talk behind people’s backs.
When did you first become involved in public service?
When we moved to Camargo, back in the 80’s, I served on the village board, and I loved it. We (she and husband John) were sitting here one night, and I saw that Ron Hunt was going to retire. I had seen earlier that he was looking for a council member for my ward and reached out to him, but he never got back to me, but then I saw that he was going to retire. I looked at John and said, “I think I’m going to run.” I didn’t have any reason other than the fact that I’ve always enjoyed politics. I didn’t have any grudge or anything like that, I just wanted to do it. I never knew I’d win! <laughing>
How many terms did you serve as mayor?
Just one, from 2009-2013. My mother was sick, and I just felt like I couldn’t run again. Then I was off for four years, and then Cassandra called and asked me about it. I told her to run. Not for Mayor, but away from it! <laughs> Then she asked me if I would run for council, and I told her I would love that. I’ve really enjoyed it.
What’s been your greatest accomplishment as a public servant?
I think it’s the fact that I see people working together. I think that’s my greatest accomplishment because I love seeing people coming together to volunteer. We were doing a lot of things and people were stepping up to the plate during my term as mayor, but then it went away. I think it’s that way again.
Someone once told me that people want to help, but you just have to find ways to ask. Would you agree with that?
I would. I find that no matter what, whether it’s in the church or in the city or what, if you want something, you have to ask face to face. You’ll get more responses than if you just say that you need help. People will jump at the chance.
Let’s talk about your latest adventure. What are you calling it?
It’s the lighted golf cart cruise.
Would you mind going into detail about that?
It’s going to be on November 27 and we will line up on Railroad street at 6:15. Then, we will be going down Main street to the Christmas Tree Lighting, which will take place at 6:30. We will be led by the VG police car, with lights flashing. I told him, “no sirens, just lights, we don’t need all that noise!” <laughing> You just decorate your vehicles, you can use golf carts, side by side UTV’s or four-wheelers. This is the first year, so this is a new adventure for us. There’s a twenty-dollar entry fee. Half the money goes to the Christmas Tree Lighting Festival fund, and the rest goes to the winning entry in the lighted cart contest. It’s really about trying to raise some money for the festival, because none of this is cheap. Also, there will be gift cards for the other entrants. Miss Villa Grove and some of the student council members will be the judges. Gift cards will be added, so if you don’t win first, you can still win a gift card. The city has made it so that you don’t have to have your golf cart registered to participate. If you don’t have your vehicle ‘road ready’, you won’t be given a ticket for this event. There are seventy carts and UTV’s registered in Villa Grove, but I don’t know where they’re at! I’m trying to find them! <laughs>
How much longer do you think you can keep going with your serving on the council, serving your church and everything?
I know. I’m busier than ever since I’ve retired! I don’t know, but I think I’ll finish out this term and that will be my last. I hate to say it, but in ward three, it’s very hard to find people who are interested in running. I hope that in the three years remaining, there will be someone in our ward who wants to run. I hope that they run because they want to run and not because they hold a grudge or there’s something they don’t like. Having an axe to grind is not the reason to run for city council. Your heart has to be in it.
What’s been a surprise to you while you’ve been serving on the council?
Well, I don’t know if it’s been a surprise, but I’m really, really happy with our new police chief and what he’s doing. I think that the progress that he’s making has been great. I’m also surprised by all that we’ve accomplished. Mayor Eversole Gunter is always coming up with new things, and she’s always on top of it. She keeps us on our toes.
Last question. Inquiring minds want to know how you earned the nickname “Boots”?
When I came home from the hospital, I had cute little booties on and everyone said, ‘awe, look at those cute little booties.’ It went from there to “bootsie” which only my uncle still calls me to this day. Everyone else calls me Boots. Besides, I never really liked my real name, “Thelma.” Yuck! <laughs>