DENISON, Iowa | When Jared Beymer won the mayoral election in Denison last month, he popped the cork on a bottle of champagne.
And while he looks youthful, he's 23 and of legal age.
Beymer assumes office at Denison City Hall in a couple of weeks, likely among the youngest to serve in this capacity in Siouxland.
"When I was getting texts from classmates (Denison-Schleswig High School Class of 2012) after the election, I took the opportunity to ask them about Denison and what we needed to do here," he says. "I was quite surprised at how many of them said they were interested in moving back."
Beymer won the election with 288 votes, defeating Bruce D. Musgrave and Esteban Martinez, who earned 218 and 137 votes, respectively.
It's a wonder Beymer will stand before the city council when it meets on Jan. 2, 2018. It's a wonder Beymer stands at all. This is a young man who used a walker to get around a couple of years ago, his body ravaged by pseudotumor cerebi, a buildup of spinal fluid on his spinal column and brain.
"I lost muscle control and used a walker for eight months," he says. "I had stages of blindness due to stage IV papilledema (swelling of the optic nerve), which is how they discovered what I had."
The disease mimics a tumor on the brain, he says, but the brain cannot find the tumor as it's in a liquid form, not a mass.
The illness forced Beymer, a computer science major, to leave Iowa State University during his junior year.
"Once it was diagnosed, I got two spinal taps and then was good to go after physical therapy to rebuild muscle," he says.
The diagnosis period, unfortunately, took 18 months.
Beymer's big break came when Dr. Scott Bowker, an optometrist in Denison referred his patient to a neuro-opthamologist in Omaha.
"The neuro-opthamologist had a four-month waiting list, but he saw me immediately and sent me right away to the ER for a spinal tap," Beymer recalls, noting how he spent a portion of July 2016 in the hospital recuperating.
In the spring of 2017, Beymer returned to his old self. He began working full-time for the Crawford County Abstract Company that summer. He keeps busy helping with abstracts and recording legal transactions in a six-county area. While it's not computer science, Beymer notes there are similarities in that he's working to automate the company's reports while vertically integrating the abstracting process and data collection.
Oh, and he's also preparing to preside over his hometown as mayor, succeeding Dan Leinen, who decided against seeking re-election.
"Dan and Brad Bonner, the mayor before Dan, were such forward thinkers and so pro-Denison," Beymer says. "I wanted to continue what they had done."
Beymer almost unwittingly ran against Leinen in the mayoral election two years ago. When no candidate filed papers in the fall of 2015, Beymer conducted a write-in campaign. Leinen did likewise. Leinen, a retiree who taught for 31 years at Harlan High School in nearby Harlan, Iowa, won that election, 665 votes to Beymer's 120.
"When I took out papers this fall, part of me wanted to redeem myself for getting clobbered the first time around," Beymer says while laughing.
And, part of Beymer simply wanted someone -- anyone -- to be listed on the ballot in the mayoral race. Beymer says it doesn't look good to have a city of 8,308 residents with nary a soul willing to serve as mayor.
When I ask if age became an issue in the campaign, Beymer nods and says it did. Surprisingly, he thinks his age -- or lack thereof -- worked in his favor. "Age may have benefited me as some people see Denison as aging," he says. "I represent a younger generation."
The night of the election, Beymer, who had posted signs and gone door-to-door a few times, gathered with a few friends at Majestic Hills Golf Course in Denison. They monitored results from a source at the Crawford County Courthouse and ordered the only bottle of champagne on-hand once victory was assured.
Beymer says he'll work with council members to accept bids on a housing study that's sorely needed in this community. He also seeks to get RAGBRAI, the Des Moines Register's Annual Bike Ride Across Iowa, to return to Denison. The country's largest bicycling party hasn't rolled through Crawford County since the county's Board of Supervisors, in so many words, told RAGBRAI to take a hike in 2007. The decision followed a fatality that occurred on RAGBRAI in 2004 as a rider fell while pedaling between Mapleton and Schleswig on Crawford County Road E-16. Crawford County's insurance carrier settled a 2006 lawsuit filed by the rider's family, and paid out $350,000.
"The Crawford County Board of Supervisors last year said they want RAGBRAI to come back," Beymer says.
He'd also like to see Denison finish its dog park. Additionally, he seeks to house a business incubator in the Denison Community Room, a site adjacent to city hall. Finally, the new mayor hopes to use the housing data from the study to attract developers intent on creating more housing options for the city.
"Housing here didn't keep up with Denison's growth," says the mayor, who turns 24 just two weeks into his tenure. "It surprised me, but I learned in texting my classmates after the election that there's a real desire to come back. Housing is a big issue."
As Beymer turns to leave the loft area his office occupies above the Donna Reed Theatre on Broadway Street, he pauses to pump the breaks. Discussions about housing, business incubators and the return of young professionals must be tempered with issues like barking dogs and utility rates, the every-day machinations of city government.
"I am a big-picture guy," the incoming mayor says. "I'll have to remember to keep taking small steps."