It has often been said that some people are born to lead and some people are born to serve. Ron Irish shows us that some people are born to do both. For more than 20 years he has served Porterville and the surrounding communities as an elected leader in local politics.
Ron Irish is probably best known for being Mayor of Porterville. He has also been on many key committees for the city as well as the county. He was first elected to Porterville City Council in 1997 and completed three, four-year terms as a city councilman. During his tenure he was mayor as well as vice-mayor of the City of Porterville. Prior to holding these positions he was elected to the Camp Nelson Water Board and served in this capacity for eight years.
Ron has been an active member of the Porterville Chamber of Commerce since 1978. He is a long-standing member of the Elks Lodge and a 32nd degree Mason. He also served on several local non-profit boards. Both he and his wife, Teri, are Rotarians and have held official positions within the local chapter.
To better understand the man behind the accolades, Ron was asked to provide a little background information about his life. He took a moment to reflect before he spoke. Then he began to talk about himself openly and without hesitation. The natural tone of his voice is gentle with an earnest sense of honesty and authority, easily drawing the listener in.
“I was born in Missouri and was quick to exercise my option and move to Bakersfield, California when I was just a little guy.”
With a twinkle in his eye, he said, “When you’re only three years old, the wisest decision you can make is to move with your parents since you’re not quite ready to be on your own yet!”
He was unable to stifle his own laugh at what he’d just said. As his friends all know, anecdotes like this are indicative of the man.
When asked if there was any particular experience that set the course of his destiny in motion, he excitedly told about the turning point for his choice of career.
“In 1963, the horizons I’d known as a youth were stretched all the way to the other side of the world. I was uprooted from my small hometown and thrust into the Vietnam War. I spent four years serving in the US Navy. My assignment involved electronic surveillance and security. The more I learned, the deeper my fascination grew. It became clear that this was exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”
After finishing his tour in the military, Ron enrolled at Fresno State.
“Do you know that I worked full-time for a local security company, carried 28 units a semester, and raised two small daughters,” he said. “I barely had time to catch any sleep in those days.”
There was a momentary lapse in the conversation then. You could tell his thoughts were centered on the past.
“Those certainly weren’t the easiest times of my life and even tougher ones were soon to follow. I think I’ll tell the story.
“I suddenly found myself without a job and had a family to support. In my field there weren’t a lot of open positions anywhere in California, let alone Fresno. It was a much smaller city in those days. So I packed up all of our belongings, my wife and two children and drove to Bakersfield. Not knowing what our future would bring, I left them in the care of my mother-in-law. I’d been told of a possible job opening in San Diego, so off I went.
“When I reached San Diego, I got myself a bed at the YMCA. I couldn’t afford to spend money on a motel. I found the company, applied for the position, and was interviewed by the owner.
“At the end of the interview we walked outside and I was asked what wage would I require if I worked there. I looked him in the eyes and said, ‘minimum wage.’ It was about $2.15 an hour back then. I think he was shocked by my answer. However, I clarified my needs and once again I told him I’d work for minimum wage, but only for two weeks. At the end of two weeks I would expect to have a higher pay rate, based upon my performance. He hired me on the spot.
“I drove back to Bakersfield, packed a suitcase full of canned goods, left my car with my family, and took a bus back to my new job. The San Diego YMCA became my home. We weren’t allowed to cook there, so each weekend I returned to Bakersfield with my one suitcase and refilled it with canned goods. You’d be surprised what you can cook over a room heater! Nine months later I was the second highest paid employee and had saved enough money to bring my family down to San Diego to live with me.”
Ron went on to explain why he told this story, “Life is about choices. You can either choose to work for your dreams or you can let them go by. My hobby is my job. There’s nothing else that I would rather do. The choice I made, to remain in the security field put me where I am today, and I am still grateful that I was given a chance to work.”
In late in 1969, a promising position with a local company brought Ron and his two daughters to Porterville. It was fate that he settled there, as his horizons once again opened up when he met the love of his life, Teri. They built their world together raising two girls, and in 1978, opened Stop Alarm, an electronic security monitoring company.
Countless hours were spent building their new business from the ground up. Still, Ron and Teri made time for their family as well as their community. They became actively involved in the Porterville Chamber of Commerce, and Ron eventually enrolled in the yearlong Leadership Porterville program offered by the Chamber.
According to Ron, “It changed our lives forever.”
Thirty plus years later, the couple still own and operate Stop Alarm. They recently purchased an abandoned building and moved the business to its new location, right in the heart of downtown Porterville. It’s within walking distance of the Chamber of Commerce and also supports the revitalization campaign for downtown Porterville.
As Ron talked about the expansion, the passion for his work resounded in his voice.
“It took over a year to renovate this building to our specifications,” he said. “It was literally an outside shell. Teri and I designed everything from floor to ceiling. After my workday, I would spend more time here than I did at home. As you can see, it now fits the needs of our business perfectly. This is the only industrial building we’ve owned.“
He purposely designed his new office as a tranquil place with beautiful, scenic photos, gallery-hung on the walls.
“Those are my own pictures. I have a passion for photography and have documented our travels. Teri and I have been to every continent around the world except for Australia. That’s next on the travel agenda,” he said.
When asked why he originally ran for the Porterville City Council, he responded, “I credit Leadership Porterville. As a business owner and active member of the Porterville Chamber of Commerce, I learned that it takes more to building a community and keep it running than just going to and from work every day. Through this program, my knowledge was expanded as to the functioning of our community. I had never really thought about how the streetlights got turned on each night, or who controlled the water that I used in my business and my home.”
He went on to further explain, “I was quite naive about the decision-making process that kept my city alive and growing until I met some strong, dedicated members who were on the current city council. I realized that they were people just like you and me. They were volunteers who were willing to give their time and expertise for the good of our city. So I decided to put my hat in the ring. I felt it was important to give back to the community which so graciously welcomed me into the fold.”
The first time Ron ran for public office he was elected to city council. He realized that there was a lot to learn and it became overwhelming.
“In retrospect”, he said, “I was lucky to have served with such tolerant and experienced people. Boyd Levitt and Judy Gibbons took me under their collective wings and gave me guidance. Not only did they teach me the necessary skills, but they also led by example. They mentored and encouraged me. I will be forever grateful.”
Ron Irish has a simple philosophy about politics, “Lead by doing! I believe that to be a productive leader within the community, we need to reinforce our words with corresponding actions. In this way, whatever stance or decision we make on behalf of our community, our intent is made clear for everyone to see. Because of my involvement in local politics, I’ve learned that we all have ‘me’ attitudes at different times of our lives. Serving the public opened up doors to the ‘we’ attitudes and made me more conscious of the needs of the people around me.
“As a city councilman, it became evident to me that my title or position could be intimidating to some people. So, I tried to become more accessible and responsive to the concerns of all the people in our community, not just the people that were comfortable enough to seek me out.”
He went on to explain how he personally believes that it is important for elected officials to be at community projects and work side-by-side with the other citizens who come to help.
“In other words, don’t ask another person to do something that you are unwilling to do yourself,” he said.
During the interview, Ron made one thing clear. “One of the hardest things to accept is that the decisions we make as elected officials are based upon current knowledge available to us at that particular time. Down the line we may see that the result of those decisions produced a favorable outcome and we accomplished the initial goal. Other times we realize that the particular path or decision might not have been the best option after all. No matter what decision is made, not everyone in the city will agree. You just try to do your best for the community as a whole.
“I hope that the legacy I leave for others is one of personal action. You don’t know what a small part plays in the big picture when it comes to the operation of your town. When we take time to give a little of ourselves, the whole community is strengthened.”