Youngest mayor recalls Madras fondly

Hale now married, works for Boeing

By Hillary Borrud / The Bulletin / @hborrud

Published Dec 11, 2012 at 04:00AM

Former Madras Mayor Jason Hale drew local and international attention when he began his political career in 2007 as the city's youngest mayor.

Hale won election at age 26 and, because of his Korean heritage on his mother's side of the family, the story of Madras' youngest mayor soon appeared on a major TV outlet in South Korea and Hale received congratulations from the mayor of a district of Seoul. At the time, he was a small-business owner, operating Ahern's Grocery&Deli and the Backstreet Pub.

Just two years later, Hale sold the businesses, resigned from the City Council and moved to Washington to study heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration.

Although some people connected with Hale on Facebook, he acknowledged he lost touch with many of the people he knew in Madras.

Now 32, Hale lives Lynnwood, Wash., a suburb of Seattle, and works for the aerospace company Boeing. He recalls his time in Madras fondly, and said that serving as mayor was a valuable experience.

“The mayoral experience I got really helps with my job right now, along with my college degree,” Hale said.

Although Hale was the youngest Madras mayor, the city has a history of electing young city councilors. Former mayor Rick Allen was first elected to City Council at age 25 and was elected mayor at age 29. Current Mayor Melanie Widmer, 39, was originally elected to the City Council when she was 26 years old. Mayors are elected for two-year, unpaid terms.

Hale served as mayor from 2007 through 2008, said Madras City Recorder and Elections Official Karen Coleman. Hale won election to City Council in 2008 but resigned after less than a month in office on Jan. 27, 2009.

“In 2008, I sold my businesses in Madras and I was looking for something else to do,” Hale said.

Ahern's Grocery&Deli and the Backstreet Pub were profitable every month Hale owned them, he said. However, he invested in real estate and those investments did not fare well.

“The economy was starting to decline, so in 2009 I decided to go back to school,” Hale said. He had already earned a bachelor's degree, and decided to study at Bates Technical College to obtain certificates in heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration.

Hale said he lost touch with many people in Madras after he left, in part due to events in his personal life.

“In 2011, my father passed away and that was really, really hard for my whole family,” Hale said. “I really went into a mode where I didn't talk to a lot of people. I was really depressed, as was my mother.”

Meanwhile, Hale started attending church services at New Life Presbyterian Church in Tacoma, Wash., where he soon met pastor Kyu Lim. It turned out that Lim had already heard about Hale's former job as Madras mayor.

“The first time we met, he was so impressed,” Hale said. “He knew me from newspapers. And he was like 'Oh, you have to meet my daughter.'”

When Hale later met the pastor's daughter, Kandace Lim, at church, a relationship blossomed. Hale and Lim were married in April 2010.

After Hale completed his studies, one of the job offers he received was to work as a contractor in Iraq. While he was traveling to Houston to sign paperwork for that job, Boeing called and offered him a position as a fuel-cell technician. Boeing trained Hale as a mechanic and he worked on fuel cells inside the wings of 787 Dreamliners.

“I was a really, really specific mechanic that worked in confined space and worked with hazardous, explosive stuff,” Hale said. Earlier this month, Boeing offered Hale a job in human resources. As an employee development specialist, Hale said he now helps other employees increase their efficiency and productivity.

Widmer, the current Madras mayor, said she has followed Hale's evolving career and was not surprised that he tried something completely new.

“From what I know of Jason, he likes to try a lot of different things and he's been involved in wildly diverse businesses and education up to the point I know him,” Widmer said. “So I'm not surprised he's doing something different. Good for him.”

Widmer said she was impressed by Hale's positive attitude.

“I thought the biggest thing he brought was his optimism, the sense that someone could come in with no experience and do a really good job,” Widmer said.

As for a possible return to politics and elected office, Hale said he is not sure whether that is in his future.

“That's going to be a tough one,” Hale said. “I'm so busy with work. I do love public service, and I like playing a role in how a community develops.”

Hale is more enthusiastic about the idea of returning to Madras.

“If God permits, I would love to go back to Madras and live there,” Hale said. “It was definitely a wonderful time in my life where I really felt like I belonged and I had a lot of close friends that you can't make in a big city.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7829, hborrud@bendbulletin.com