As her mother-in-law puts it, she has three strikes against her. She’s a woman. She’s a Democrat. And she’s half Hispanic.
She’s also pegged on social media as a University elitist — an insult that perhaps serves as the epitome of why Ashlee Hendrix is running for one of the two contested Maryville City Council seats: to bridge the widening gap between the campus and community.
“A crazy person must want to do this, right?” Ashlee Hendrix, 35, said of her bid for a Council seat as she sat in her office on the second floor of Northwest’s Administration Building with a sign reading ‘This girl can’ sitting just above her head.
Ashlee Hendrix has always been a news junkie. She graduated from the University with a bachelor’s in journalism and a minor in broadcast. She met her husband, Mark Hendrix, in Wells Hall when she was a self-described Wells basement dweller, working for Tower Yearbook and Mark Hendrix at the KZLX-FM radio station.
After graduating in 2008, they packed their belongings and made a life for themselves in Olathe, Kansas, where Ashlee Hendrix worked for a handful of small newspapers — the Johnson County Sun and the Lee Summit Journal being among them — as a paginator or graphic designer. They always intended on moving back to Maryville, maybe to retire, but when Ashlee Hendrix received a job offer from the University in 2016 as graphic designer, they made their way back to Maryville.
Despite being in the know and working with teams of people on the forefront of news cycles, the recent election cycle was the first time she has ever seen people like herself run for office. It seemed natural for her to run, too.
It was on a jog back in August 2020 when tensions between campus and the community seemed to be at their peak that Ashlee Hendrix had an epiphany. She felt the disjointedness and needed to get involved somehow.
“I want to be a candidate that stands in the middle of these two and gets them to work together,” Ashlee Hendrix said. “I’m running to help people see each other and talk to each other.”
Ashlee Hendrix is walking into local politics at an interesting time where background city officials have been thrusted into the forefront with concerns of the pandemic. She commends the City Council for helping to lead the city through the first year of the pandemic, but said it’s time to get new people into the rotation.
The Council — made up of five members — currently seats four men: Jason McDowell, Ben Lipiec, Matt Johnson and Tye Parsons, and one woman: Rachael Martin. McDowell and Johnson are not seeking reelection. In a town with a makeup of nearly 52% women, Ashlee Hendrix is the only woman in the running to replace them.
“I think I can really help and make change happen in our city,” she said.
Ashlee Hendrix’s husband, who moved to Maryville when he was in fourth grade, serves as her campaign manager. He briefly thought about running himself before deciding that Ashlee Hendrix was the best possible candidate he could name.
Mark Hendrix, the University events coordinator, puts most of his efforts toward talking to people — it’s what he’s best at. He uses his resources and campaigns for his wife, who fell in love with the town long after he had.
“My wife amazes me,” Mark Hendrix said. “She blows me away with her passion for this city. I’m ready for her to be put into that spotlight of showing off her passion.”
Ashlee Hendrix, a St. Joseph native, has poured herself into getting established in the community since her return almost five years ago. She started a family here. She raised $2,100 for mental health initiatives in the county as a part of the 2021 St. Francis Foundation Gala. She’s the chapter adviser for Alpha Sigma Alpha, which she was a part of during college. She’s president of the Wesley Foundation board and involved with the Methodist church. She lends her talents in graphic design where she can with local businesses and downtown promotions.
From her involvement, Ashlee Hendrix sees a need that she wants to push for if elected to the Council: a communications person. She said this position would allow both the city and campus to seamlessly work together and promote local business during events like Family Weekend.
“Maryville has things to do, and it’s fun and vibrant,” Ashlee Hendrix said. “It takes somebody communicating that intentionally, and it’s difficult if there is nobody putting that information out.”
On the limelight issues that pushed the City Council to the brunt of much pushback from residents, Ashlee Hendrix supports the Council’s decisions so far. In a town of nearly 12,000 people who may or may not believe in the number of lives lost to the coronavirus and how it relates to them, Ashlee Hendrix supports the Council’s March 22 decision to drop the mask mandate. The politics of the mask outweighed the science of it.
“I will continue to wear my mask until they (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) tell me to not wear my mask,” Ashlee Hendrix said. “I feel like we have to give people a break and find that compromise.”
Ashlee Hendrix supports all efforts to address water taste and odor issues stemming from Mozingo Lake, the city’s main water source. She sees the value in the South Main Corridor Project. And she advocates for local businesses.
“I’ve got their back 100%,” Ashlee Hendrix said. “This has been a tough year. I think the council has been lacking in really throwing their support to small businesses.”
Shortly after Ashlee Hendrix’s campaign launched, Mark Hendrix noticed people calling out her voting history on social media. For a nonpartisan April 6 election, Mark Hendrix didn’t see why that mattered.
“They look at an issue like the mask mandate and just throw her out. Or that she’s a registered Democrat, they’ll throw her out just because of that,” Mark Hendrix said. “We are not going to get better as a community if we are just looking at blue and red.”
She’s a woman. She’s a Democrat. She’s half Hispanic. Her mother-in-law said she’s scaring the hell out of Maryville. But she’s running to bridge a gap.
Ashlee Hendrix knows what the “keyboard warriors” have to say about her campaign. But she’s not stopping there. She has a race to run.
“I’m not weak,” Ashlee Hendrix said. “Don’t pigeonhole me into this category because I’m not what you think I am.”