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County commissioner speaks on service, experience

| Monday, March 2, 2020

St. Joseph County Commissioner, Deb Fleming, discussed on Saturday what led her to her current position as county commissioner: her desire to serve.

This was the first of three talks in Saint Mary’s College Republican’s Lecture Series, an new initiative to expose students to local politics and national issues. 

Sophomore Elizabeth Zaczyk, president of College Republicans, said the focus of the club this semester was to make students interested in politics and to prepare them for the November elections by inviting local government officials to speak about their own platforms and experience. 

“You can only do so much at club meetings,” Zaczyk said. “If you bring outside people in with their ideas and especially if you’re interested in going into politics yourself, it’s a great opportunity to learn something new that you might not get at a regular club meeting. I also thought this was a good semester to have speakers with the election coming up. We can all learn a lot from these speakers.”

A wife and mother of four, Fleming, a South Bend native, attended University of Kentucky on a volleyball scholarship where she later completed dental school. Thirty years later, Fleming is still practicing dentistry but now implements her desire to serve, not only in the field of medicine but in the political arena as county commissioner. 

“During my time as county commissioner, I have been very proud of the many improvements we’ve been able to achieve for the county,” Fleming said. “For example, when I first came on, there were no department head meetings so I started these meetings in the county and because of that we’re working together and now we have developed our mission, vision and values for our county. This has led to a renewed focus on economic growth by hiring our first economic development director in the county.”  

In addition to updating internal systems to improve efficiency and safety and updating energy systems to make the county more energy efficient, Fleming said her main focus is working with and for the elderly, as they make up the highest percentage of residents in St. Joseph County.

“We are the first county in our state to become age friendly,” she said. “We will hopefully be able to help our parents and grandparents as they continue to get older.” 

With the various number of universities that are present in northern Indiana, Fleming also said she prioritizes improving the economy to bring more jobs to the county to keep young graduates local and to prepare a thriving business community for the future. 

“I have been disappointed that our country has not grown for over forty years,’’ she said. “Back in the ‘70s we were the third largest county in the state and now we have dropped down to sixth, but because of our economic promotion and improving services, we have grown by 3,000 since 2015.

“We have great universities here, but we don’t have good economies for jobs here so our young graduates have to move away to California, Texas, New York. I want to help the people that are here which is why I made the county age friendly, but now I would also like to develop our economy to bring in businesses so young people can stay here and get good jobs.”

Fleming concluded by returning to her opening point that a life of service is both a universal call and the means of finding greatest fulfillment. 

“Serving as county commissioner is one of the ways I have chosen to live in the interest of others,” she said. “I believe strongly that when we look to consider others as more significant than ourselves, we will find true meaning and ultimate joy.

“ … I challenge others here today, myself included, to think about how each of us can do more to serve. Where can you serve our schools and work places? How can we serve others who are less fortunate or different from us? And how can we all serve to the point where it requires sacrifice?”

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