After an unsuccessful bid for Shawnee mayor this fall, former city councilmember Stephanie Meyer says she will take a break from nearly two decades in politics to focus on other areas of volunteerism and civic engagement.
“I’ve really tried to be pretty thoughtful and deliberative about what I’m going to do next, but definitely want to stay involved in the community in a different capacity than the political realm, at least for the time being,” Meyer said.
One of 60 members of the Shawnee Rotary Club for the past eight years, Meyer was appointed last week to be the next district governor over the organization’s northeast Kansas district — one of the youngest in the club to have that position. In that role, she will oversee about 2,600 members in 45 clubs.
“I’m excited about it for a lot of reasons,” she said, noting the advocacy work ahead of her to attract younger members and promote Rotary’s contributions to such organizations as Sleep in Heavenly Peace, which builds bunk beds for children.
Donating one of her kidneys to a friend was also a life-changing experience, especially as she went through what turned out to be a “difficult” campaign for mayor.
“That has been a wonderful, happy accident, all the things that have happened since the kidney donation,” Meyer said, noting that a tattoo she got commemorating the first anniversary of her donation has made a great conversation starter. “The timing of it was perfect for me and gave me the right frame of mind going through a campaign. It gave me such a perspective that I didn’t have, perhaps, before. Honestly, I don’t know how I would have felt coming out of it a few years ago. There are so many people who are going through things that are so much bigger than whether anyone wins or loses a single election.”
In the past year since she donated, she’s shifted her focus to advocacy for the more than 100,000 patients still waiting for a kidney. She serves on the advisory board for the Midwest region of the National Kidney Foundation.
Meyer also plans to keep up her role the past five years as a Big Sister with Big Brothers Big Sisters, and she is still involved with the American Council of Young Political Leaders and at United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, where she and her husband, Bryan, are members.
Her shift away from politics comes at a time when issues, even at the local level, have become increasingly partisan, Meyer said. And while she’s a registered Republican and has been active in her party, she has been distancing herself from a party that “is not in a place that I recognize anymore.”
“I really firmly believe that within the political culture that we have right now, the only thing that’s going to really bring about meaningful, sustainable change are those kind of civic organizations and places that exist outside of the sound and fury of politics — people who are the boots on the ground and actually moving forward to get things done,” she said.
Meyer’s political career started as chair of the College Republicans at Kansas State University. She served in a few roles in the Kansas statehouse and lobbied for the Kansas Bioscience Authority. She gave two years to the Shawnee planning commission before she was appointed to a Ward 3 seat on the city council in October 2013.
Her passion to help others started at a very young age, after her house was hit by a tornado and the first people she saw coming to help were from the Red Cross and Salvation Army.
“I feel very passionately that it is my job to pay that forward and do whatever I can to help those who are in need, because I was helped so much as a kid,” she said. “So that’s what I’m going to keep doing.”