Mayor Jerry L. Merrill grew up in Blackfoot, Idaho. He graduated from Snake River High School and moved to Rexburg to attend Rick’s College. After returning from a mission in Japan, he studied for one semester at BYU, where he met his wife, Marianne.
After coming back to Rick’s College to study landscape horticulture, Merrill took over a landscaping business. He and his family have run Merrill Quality Landscapes for the past 38 years. He was elected mayor in 2015 and started official duties January 2016.
Q: Why did you decide to run for mayor of Rexburg?
A: It was kind of a funny thing. I really didn’t have intentions to get involved in local government that much. It was busy running my landscape company. And then a lady who was on the City Council approached me and said, “Hey, you know, I noticed that you’re very involved in the community and you like to do things.” The biggest thing that I’ve enjoyed doing is I’m on the Madison Athletic Club Board and I’ve been in charge of the tailgate parties at the football games, which is one of my passions. I love football. I’m involved in the Kiwanis club and different things, and I just enjoy civic involvement. So she encouraged me to run for City Council and I thought, “Well, I don’t know if I have time for that.” But the more I thought about it, I thought, “Well maybe I could, you know, make a difference in the city.” And so I decided to run and got elected. And then a couple of years into that term the previous mayor and his wife came up to me one night after City Council meeting and said, “Hey, we’re thinking that we’re going to finish out this term and then go on a mission. And so we’d like you to run for mayor. And I was like, “Oh, I really don’t think I have time for that.” But the more I thought about it, I just thought, well, that would be a chance for me to try to make even more of a difference, you know, do good things for the people (of) Rexburg. So I thought, “What the heck, I’ll give it a shot, you know?” Lo and behold, we get elected and here we are.
But it’s been really fun. I’ve enjoyed it, you know, I meet a lot of good people, you know, in Rexburg. And all the students, I really enjoyed meeting them and getting to know them. And I’ve met a lot of good people in our state legislature. And just all of the people that are working hard to try to do good things in Idaho. The governor and I have met quite a few times, and it’s just always nice to get to know the people that are working in government and making the policies that we have to live by and get to know them and get to feel of their true nature and their spirit.
Q: Why do you like to serve the community so much?
A: Well, I don’t know. I think it’s just something that I’ve always been interested in. My grandfather on my mom’s side was a legislator for 32 years or something like that. He was a longtime legislator over in Boise, and then my uncle was elected to the legislature and the Senate and served for a long time from Blackfoot there. And so it kind of runs in my family a little bit.
My parents always taught me that if you want to make something happen and get involved, don’t just sit on the sidelines and complain. I felt like one of the things I’m pretty good at is listening to both sides of an issue, because my dad’s side, my uncle was in the legislature and my grandpa was a Republican. My mom and her family were really staunch Republicans and my dad’s family were more Democrats.
Q: What do you think has been the most rewarding activity you’ve been a part of as mayor of Rexburg so far?
A: I really like it when I meet people out on the street and just have personal conversations with people.
I’ve learned a lot about water and water rights and I’ve learned a lot about planning and zoning and I’ve learned a lot about just a lot of different things that cities have to deal with. But really my favorite part of it is just meeting people.
We get a lot of events like that here in Rexburg that most towns of our size wouldn’t have because of the university being here. That Patriots and Pioneers concert and the Christmas concert that they do are just outstanding, and I just don’t think we’d have that kind of quality of events if we didn’t have the university here in Rexburg.
Q: I also heard that you’re the owner of the Bobcat Spirit Bus. What is that and why did you decide to do it?
A: I’ll say the reason I decided to do it is because I had a business meeting back in Ohio about eight years ago. I love football and my sons both played football and then they all like football too. And so, I looked up Ohio State’s football schedule, and they happened to have a game that weekend, the weekend before my meetings. And so I said to my son who was about 15 maybe at the time and I said, “Hey, do you want to go to an Ohio State game?”
He was like, “Yeah, that’d be awesome.” So we got tickets to the Ohio State game and we flew in a couple of days early, went to the game and then I sent him home and went to my meetings.
Just walking through the Ohio State stadium parking lot, they had these massive tailgate parties going on and all that. A lot of these people had big fancy motorhomes in the parking lot with big screen TVs. And there was one, I remember it was called the nut wagon because Ohio State is the Buckeyes, which is a nut on a tree. I thought that’s kind of a cool idea. So I thought, “We’ve got to do something like this.” I mean, this, the school spirit and stuff that was, it was just so contagious.
And so later that summer I went to an auction down in Blackfoot, and lo and behold, there was an old school bus there for sale, coming up on the auction. And it was so cool because it was just an old school bus that they’d been using for river running or something. But it has this like a big fog horn on it like the semi trucks have.
I thought, “Wow, that is cool.” And so I bought it. I think I paid $1,500 bucks for it at the auction, drove it back to Rexburg, and I took it to the school and talked to the shop teachers because it was blue and white. And of course, that’s not going to work for Madison because we’re red, right? So I take it out to the school and I said to the shop teachers, “Hey, do you guys do anything with like body work or anything?”
So they took on that project and they painted all of the blue, painted it red. Then what we do as kind of part of our tailgate parties, on home football days, my grandkids mostly recruit a whole bunch of kids in the neighborhood and they come and get on the bus about 3:30 and we drive through town and we play music and the kids sing the school song and they yell stuff out the windows and we honk the horn. We have these big banners on it that says, “Come to the game,” and “Madison football rocks” and all that kind of stuff.
The whole idea of it was just to try to encourage people to come to the game and you know, engage in the community and be more involved with our kids at the school. Not only there to support the football team, but you’ve got the band and you’ve got the cheerleaders and you’ve got the dancers and the whole thing. It’s all part of the effort and so that basically, that’s why we bought it was just to kind of be a community spirit enhancer, I guess you’d say. And it’s been fun. We do that every home football game. We drive around town honking the horn and the kids just have a ball. They yell and scream. When we get on the bus I say, “Okay, we have one rule. If you’re not going to yell and scream at the top of your lungs, you have to get off the bus.”
One of these years it’ll probably conk out and then we’ll be done unless somebody wants to buy another one to take over, but I don’t know if anybody’s as crazy as me on something like that.
Q: What do you do when you’re not being mayor?
A: I like sports. We have a boat and we like to go boating out on the lake. We try to go to Bear Lake for a few days each summer, have a little family reunion with my kids and their families. And so we do that and we go to football games and mostly it’s just family time really.
It’s a funny thing though, even when I’m off doing other things, not on official duty, I guess you’d say, I’m always looking.
When we were in Italy, there’s a city, a place we went to, it’s called Amalfi coast and you’ve got these sheer cliffs, it just drops into the ocean and here’s all these houses and businesses and stuff that are built right along on this cliff. And then they’ve got this road that’s just built on the edge of the cliff winds around it and it’s kind of built out with stilts in some places and columns that hold it up.
I’m looking at that and I’m thinking, “How do they operate a city water system and how do they get water to all these places and how do they get sewer away from these places? All my city stuff kicks in and I’m literally thinking of this stuff and taking pictures of different things that I think, you know, maybe we can learn from.