Debbie Jessen has worked in the Lebanon Mayor's Office for over 21 years.
She knows the challenges of her role as mayoral assistant are not "for the faint of heart" but admitted that it is a job she loves.
"The mayor's office is the hub of the city. The calls that come into the office run gamut. You have to stay abreast of all the projects underway and the services available in the city. You have to be a problem solver, multitasker and a juggler," Jessen said, adding that she has worked for Mayors Don Fox and Philip Craighead who had "vision and a heart for our city."
"I am an organizer and a perfectionist and enjoy laying the groundwork for projects. I've had many opportunities with the city to apply my skill set. The position has evolved through the years as projects are conceived and achieved. I hear it everywhere, 'If you need anything, call Debbie at the Mayor's Office.' I'm that Debbie."
Jessen was born in the mountains of Virginia - however, her family moved around quite a bit. "My father served proudly in the United States Navy; so, we as a family 'were Navy.' Depending upon where the Navy needed us, it was where we called home. I caught the chicken pox in Philadelphia, ate root beer floats in the Fire Fighting Training School at Great Lakes Naval Station in Waukegan, Illinois, skated on frozen ponds and sledded on snow covered slopes on the north shore outside Chicago," she said. "I played on the beaches of Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville, Florida, and became a teenager at Little Creek Naval Station in Norfolk, Virginia."
In the early 1970s the opportunity arose for her family to become a Naval Recruiter in Nashville - which brought the family to Middle Tennessee. The family resided on Castle Heights Avenue in Lebanon. Jessen said she was grateful "that the Navy sent us this way."
She entered Lebanon High School as a freshman and graduated valedictorian of her class. Although Cumberland University offered her a full scholarship, Jessen let it go due to family circumstances. She continued her education through Vol State, then Cumberland University, the Continual Learning Institute and Continuing Education courses.
Jessen is the wife of Steve Jessen. She said that when they met over 20 years ago she wasn't interested in dating anyone - but that didn't last long.
"He's funny and creative and adores me. Who could ask for more?!" she said of her husband, a Realtor with Century 21 West Main and manager of their business Old Hickory Lake Cabins.
The couple has two sons who live in Lebanon - John (Becky) House, who works in the Information Technology Department at Cracker Barrel, and Dr. Ryan (Bethany) House, who owns Cumberland Chiropractic and Sports Medicine. Jessen said that John and Becky have a daughter, Isabel. Ryan and Bethany have a son, Tyler, who is a senior at Wilson Central High School and will be "giving us a new little granddaughter to spoil" shortly.
Jessen's son Nick and his wife, Jill, live in Colorado. "We enjoy lots of FaceTime with our delightful grandbabies, Joel and Makenzie, and fly out to enjoy them as often as possible," Jessen said. "Mimi and Papa are the sweetest words I've ever heard."
When she isn't being a Mimi or assisting Mayor Craighead, she attends church services with her family at West Haven Baptist. She is also a big supporter of veterans, senior citizens and youth groups.
Jessen has served for many years on the Board of Directors for the Lebanon Senior Citizens Center and participates in fundraisers for the Wilson County Veterans Park and Museum. She also enjoys her role in the annual Whip Crackin' Rodeo for charity, and other local events - particularly those pertaining to children. Jessen taught Sunday school to 13-year-old girls for many years.
"It's been a joy to place thousands of smiling children on the lap of the Easter Bunny through the years," she said of the City Gas Department's Annual Egg Hunt. "I've been involved in the July 4th, Halloween and Christmas events at the park, fairgrounds and on the square."
"Our community has so much to offer, and I want everyone to know about it," she said. "We have great events, and we also have many needs and worthy causes to get involved in."
During her time in the mayor's office, Jessen has acquired fond memories. She said she remembers driving nails into the Stockade Playground as the Don Fox Park became a reality, aiding in the creation of the Jimmy Floyd Family Center and playing a part in the Castle Heights Military Academy Administration Building being saved, restored and preserved - and her work is not over yet.
"We've built two fire halls and are on track to build another one. We have looked at numerous recycling programs and are scheduled to break ground on the new and innovative Gasification Project," she said. "It takes many quality people working together to make these projects happen. I'm happy to be a part of that team."
The woman she most admires is her mother. "She is a career mother and writer of short stories and poems. Her motto is 'forgive and forget,'" Jessen said. "She has honed that skill over the years and hopes her children will catch on soon. I regret that we don't live closer. The Navy took her on to another town, so we make up for the distance with lots of phone calls."
Staff Writer Sabrina Garrett may be contacted at email@example.com.