What makes a person choose to run for public office? For some, it is a quest for power. For others, it's a desire to serve.
A few years ago, I did a column about three local mayors who grew up in Batavia around the same time period. Two lived within shouting distance of each other. I found it extraordinary that Mayor Jeff Schielke, Mayor Tom Weisner (Aurora) and Mayor Jim Willey (Elburn) had all chosen to go into public service at the local level.
Unfortunately, I missed one.
At the same time, Pat Branson grew up on Walnut Street on Batavia's southwest side. She graduated from Batavia High School in the class of '66. After earning a graduate degree from University of Wisconsin, Madison, she headed west to Portland, Ore., to work for the Oregon Historical Society. She met her husband, Gordon Gould, there and together they took the next step in life's journey.
"My husband grew up living on Lake Washington and really wanted to live near water," said Branson. "After living in cities, I wanted to live in a small town."
The couple settled on Kodiak, Alaska, a small city on Kodiak Island, the second largest island in the United States.
"It is island living," said Branson. "(It's a) moderate climate and warmer here than in Chicago because we have the benefit of the Japanese current. There is also a great sense of community here."
Branson has made a commitment to the seniors in Kodiak, having served as executive director of senior citizens of Kodiak, Inc. for more than 25 years. She has also represented seniors' interests at the state level.
Last year, she was honored in Washington, D.C., by the National Council on Aging and the National Institute of Senior Centers with the Founders Award for her leadership and commitment to the growth and development of the senior center field.
According to the city's website, Branson was elected to Kodiak's city council in 2010 and was elected as mayor in 2011. She was re-elected for a second term in 2013. Her commitment to all members of the Kodiak community is unparalleled.
"Growing up in Batavia -- when it was a smaller town -- provided a sense of community to me," she said. "Volunteering, knowing your neighbor, having a sense of pride in your community and making a difference is a foundation I have certainly carried with me."
Mayor Branson is also appreciative of the education she received in Batavia schools.
"Mr. Peebles (orchestra) and Miss Stafney (Latin) were outstanding teachers who continue to influence me," Branson said. "It was also great living next to a big city and getting to experience all the cultural events Chicago had to offer."
Living on an island can present a different set of challenges for the mayor because the city has to be self-sufficient, especially with energy. Kodiak has six wind turbines and a hydro project -- the only integrated wind and hydro system in the world -- and is 99 percent energy renewable.
She serves on the Alaska Community and Public Transportation Board and the Marine Highway Transportation Board. Like our local mayors, she is also dealing with downtown revitalization.
"Being mayor is time consuming, interesting," Branson said. "Your phone line and door is always open, but I enjoy it."
Pat Branson doesn't serve for political gain. She serves because she loves her community -- the community of Kodiak, Alaska.