Originally published in the Kansas City Star, Tuesday, April 5, 2005, page A1
It was a simple request from a mother to her son.
Finish what I started.
When Houston Lake Mayor Jean Hallauer, 71, learned she had cancer, life changed quickly.
The cancer had developed in her colon and had spread rapidly. She took time off from serving as mayor to get her affairs in order. But of all the preparations, finding a successor to lead the Platte County village weighed heavily on her mind. So she asked her oldest son to dinner.
“I don’t remember where we went, (but) it was driving to the restaurant when she said, `I want to ask you something,’” Mike Hallauer, 50, recalls. “She said, `Would you finish my term as mayor?’”
“I said, `Well, when do you need to know?’”
“She said, `I’ll give you a couple of days.’”
Hallauer says he knew it was a relief to his mother when he agreed. She only had a matter of months to live, and she needed to concentrate on other matters.
In a way, taking on the responsibility as mayor of the village of about 300 wasn’t a difficult decision.
He had been active with the homes association and he cared deeply about Houston Lake.
However, her request still came as a surprise.
“At that time, everything just came as a shock to me,” he says.
Today is bittersweet. Although it’s Hallauer’s first election as Houston Lake mayor, today also marks the first anniversary of his mother’s death.
Campaigning unopposed, he is continuing his mother’s journey, instilling in others a sense of pride in Houston Lake that his mother possessed.
She would take time to talk to people in the community, and would want residents to vote. Civic duty was something she believed in.
Hallauer says he and his mother shared that sentiment about government involvement.
“No voter is too small, I think that’s kind of how she would feel,” he says.
“Everybody has a vote and everybody has a voice.”
Hallauer still swallows hard before talking about any of it, slowly finding the right words. He still fights the tears when he thinks about her, and he still hurts when he reflects on how he now fills the same chair she once did during board meetings.
Jean Hallauer was mayor for 10 months of a two-year term. In that time, she touched many. When she became ill, the community pushed to finish a park she had supported.
The project would be called Mayor’s Park, with a plaque naming the four former mayors of Houston Lake.
“Her passing, I think, was a spark,” Mike Hallauer says. “The park was just one thing out of that spark. It brought people in the community closer together.”
She had united people in her wish for something better for the community. Her sense of civic duty, to make Houston Lake a better place to live, had spread to others in the small city.
Just west of where Interstates 635 and 29 intersect, Houston Lake incorporated in 1960. The man-made lake is owned by the Venetian Hills Homes Association, which governs the city alongside the Board of Alderman.
So close to the interstate, the lake is surprisingly quiet, as if Houston Lake was in the country and not surrounded by the bigger city.
The atmosphere is what Mike Hallauer loves most.
In the city’s short history, there have been four mayors.
When Jewel Head stepped down in 2003, he left Jean Hallauer in his place. She showed an interest in the city and he prepped her by appointing her city collector and later city administrator.
“She had a good personality and she was friendly to everybody,” Head says.
“I heard very little criticism of what she did. She was a person who you would probably like immediately.”
When Hallauer took office, she had a list of things to accomplish. Now, her son is finishing most of that list, Head says.
“She was enthused about the job and she had a lot of plans to do different things,” he says. “I think her son is carrying on some of her plans.”
Mother and son would spend hours together on the front porch, talking about the city, says Marsha Duncan, Mike Hallauer’s girlfriend and Houston Lake’s city clerk.
“She relied on him,” she says.
Hallauer didn’t always agree with his mother. However, they both wanted the people of Houston Lake to be proud of their city, Duncan says.
Hallauer intends to be mayor for as long as the people of Houston Lake will have him, although he doesn’t think of being mayor as living a legacy.
He’s only doing what she asked. He’s taking care of the city.