Declaring his intention to run for the office of mayor of Lebanon, Bernie Ash knows the wisdom of taking stock of where we are today, envisioning a better tomorrow and remembering where we came from.
The Lebanon native has lived more than 60 of his 68 years in the Cedar City and has spent most of his life serving others, whether it be in the United States Air Force, on the Wilson County Commission, the Lebanon City Council, as the local veterans' service officer or as the owner of a small business.
"Since 1994, when I was elected to the county commission, everything I've done has led me to this place. I've tried to provide representation for the voters and the taxpayers," said Ash, who graduated from Lebanon High School in 1965 and served four years in the U.S. Air Force - one of those years at Phu Cat Air Base during the Vietnam War.
"I've learned the processes of both county and city government and attended hundreds of meetings where I met many wonderful citizens who care about this place we all call home. I believe my experiences as a servant and businessman will prove to be priceless assets in working as mayor of Lebanon.
"I served as chairman of the county budget committee. The reason I got into politics was that I thought taxes were too high and wanted to do something about it. We had a common sense budget for many years. I have seen the growth and changes in our community from the 1960s to the present. I want to be a part of continued growth, yet at the same time, protect the values and characteristics that make our town unique."
A member of the Wilson County Commission for 16 years, he also served as chairman of the finance, emergency management, judicial and rules committees. Ash also served on the education, planning and zoning, cable TV and other committees.
Ash has three major planks in his platform.
"Public safety is my first priority," he said. "I want to make sure the police and fire departments are adequately staffed and have the proper training and equipment. After I saw what happened in San Bernardino, (Calif.) where some police officers were responding with handguns and shotguns, I sponsored an ordinance in Lebanon to supply all of our officers with assault rifles and training. If we are not safe in our community, nothing else matters."
Secondly, he recognizes the urgency of having a plan for growth.
"Growth is coming whether we are ready or not. We have some time, but not a lot, to prepare for it," said Ash, who noted he understands that an integral part of preparing for the future means knowing who you are, where you came from and where you are going.
"I want us to reflect on the values that brought us to where we are today and hang on to those things that make Lebanon different from the communities in Middle Tennessee. Because I grew up there, I think I have a unique perspective on Lebanon.
"Right now, we've got four hotspots: South Hartmann Drive, Legends Drive, Cumberland Center and the Beckwith Corridor. As of yet I have seen little development here. I already serve on the Developers Taskforce for South Hartmann Drive. This is a gateway to the city. We need to plan for the growth in this area, or it will just develop into a hodgepodge of signs and small businesses. We don't want growth just for the sake of growth. We need planned growth for Lebanon. I will be Lebanon's No. 1 salesman."
Ash's third goal is to ensure that local government is in the hands of the citizens and not the politicians, he said.
"I believe that government should be open and transparent. Meetings should be scheduled when most citizens can attend, not early in the morning or when most people are at work. Citizens must be able to voice their concerns," he continued, adding he would also like to improve communications between the mayor and the city council and between councilors. "The monthly agenda should be prepared early enough that the council can study it and discuss it before we are ready to vote on it. Special called meetings should be on an urgent or emergency basis only."
The son of the late Dave and Ruth (Allison) Ash, he grew up with his brother Luke in a home on North Cumberland Street. He has three children: Alice, Bill and John, and eight grandchildren. He got his first job at the age of 15, making 50 cents an hour working at the Dari Delite on West Main Street.
"There I learned how to work, how to be on time and do my job. The most important thing that I learned was that to be successful you have to be of service to others," Ash said.
Upon graduation from Lebanon High School at 17, he worked with his father drilling water wells and, after turning 18, he volunteered for the U.S. Air Force. "As a chaplain's assistant in Vietnam, part of my job was to travel with the chaplain and carry a weapon, as the Geneva Convention does not allow chaplains to be armed," he said. While in the U.S. Air Force, Ash earned the National Defense Medal, the Air Force Commendation Medal, the Presidential Unit Citation, the Vietnam Service Medal and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.
About lessons learned during the war, he said, "When things are the darkest, God is always there."
After mustering out of the Air Force at the rank of sergeant, he attended Cumberland College on the G.I. Bill and worked on the night shift at Precision Rubber. He then joined his father and brother in the family business, Ash Drilling Company.
"My dad started the business in 1957. My brother continues the business to this day. I worked in the business for eight years drilling water wells, blast holes for rock quarries and shallow oil wells in West Tennessee," he said. "In 1981, I went to work in the oil fields near Houston, where Halliburton was looking for drilling fluid engineers. For five years, I worked there running chemical tests on oil wells and making recommendations for treatment of the fluid systems. I worked on land rigs and offshore," Ash said, noting he knows what it means to work hard and "get your hands dirty."
After his father's death in 1986, Ash returned to Lebanon to help care for his mother. In 1988, he opened Creative Photography, where he worked for the next 21 years.
"I loved the creative aspect of photography, looking through the lens and composing a picture," he said. "The act of making a picture causes you to focus on a subject and look deeper to find out what is really there." Ash said it is a gift that continues to serve him today as he listens to other peoples' points of view.
In 2012, Ash accepted the job as Wilson County's veterans director, where he now serves helping veterans obtain the benefits they qualify for along with other needs.
"I am also spearheading the fund-raising effort for the Wilson County Veterans Plaza and Museum. The park is completed, and the museum and veterans office building will be coming soon," he said.
In 2015, he was elected to represent Ward 4 on the Lebanon City Council. He has served on the Joint Economic and Community Development Board (JECDB) of Wilson County and presently sits on the Lebanon/Wilson County Development Board.
Ash is a member of Lebanon First Baptist Church, The Gideons, the Lebanon Breakfast Rotary, the Lebanon Wilson County Chamber of Commerce (Government Relations Committee), the Vietnam Veterans of America, The American Legion (Legionnaire of the Year, 2015) and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
As for hobbies, he said, "I still enjoy photography. I like to ride my Harley Ultra Classic. I also collect and rebuild antique Cushman motor scooters."
Ash pointed out that Election Day is Nov. 8. Early Voting is Oct. 19 through Nov. 3, and the last day to register is Oct. 10.