Ed Eilert: 44 years of public service ends with the New Year

Chairman Ed Eilert

By Gerald Hay

Ed Eilert, outgoing chairman of the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners, has devoted most of his adult life to public service, spanning 44 years.

When 2023 starts, his retirement begins, ending 16 years as a member of the county commission. For the past 12 years, he has served as chairman after serving as Fourth District commissioner for four years from 2006-2010. Chairman Eilert did not seek re-election in 2022.

Prior to his time in Johnson County Government, he was mayor of Overland Park for 24 years after serving on the city council for four years. He left Overland Park City Hall in 2005.

A public retirement reception in his honor is scheduled from 4 to 7 p.m. Jan. 6 at the Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center, 8788 Metcalf Ave., Overland Park.

The site of the gathering is appropriate for Eilert. He has resided in Overland Park since moving to Johnson County in 1965 with his wife, Jan, an Overland Park native.

The Arts and Heritage Center was also a project he strongly supported in preserving the iconic King Louie Building. It provided a new location for the Johnson County Museum along with other programs by the Johnson County Park and Recreation District.

As he prepares to step down from the helm of county government, he has no regrets and was honored to do so.

“There is nothing more challenging and nothing more rewarding than public service. Thank you for choosing me for that opportunity,” he said.

Chairman Eilert remains humble about the many awards and accolades he has received over the years honoring his longtime public service in Johnson County.

“At Overland Park City Hall and at the Johnson County Administration Building, I have been fortunate with the wonderful opportunity to work with community and local government leaders, past and present, to pursue our shared vision, ideals and opportunities for Johnson County,” Chairman Eilert said.

“It has been my good fortune to work with outstanding staff, both at Overland Park and Johnson County, who have made such a positive impact on our community. Together, we try to do good things for our residents of all ages. We want to build and maintain a better, stronger, more vibrant community for generations to come.”

Raised in the small Kansas farming community of Furley, located northeast of Wichita, Eilert grew up as a farm boy. He milked cows by hand and wore shirts his mother made from colorful chicken feed sacks. He attended high school with about 100 students in nearby Whitewater, Kansas. Eilert was among 23 graduates in the Class of 1957.

He received a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in business education from Emporia State University. He also met his future wife, a fellow ESU student. The couple has been married for 60 years.

Following graduation, he was a business teacher. His first job was at Lebo High School for three years. He then became a business teacher at Shawnee Mission East High School in 1965 after moving to Overland Park. A year later, he was asked to consider becoming a grade school principal at Axtell, Kansas.

The couple decided to remain in Johnson County. He left the teaching profession in 1966 to pursue his longtime career as a financial adviser. His business career ended in 2008.

With two retirements under his belt at that time, friends urged him to become a candidate for a seat on the Johnson County Commission.

“I had the time. I had the interest,” Eilert said with a smile. After four years as a district commissioner, friends next encouraged him to run for chairman. The rest is history.

Eilert cites the openings of Big Bull, Lexington Lake, Meadowbrook and Cedar Niles Parks as highlights during his time in office. The county also has built the new Monticello and Lenexa Libraries along with currently constructing a future facility at Merriam Center.

In partnership with Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe, Chairman Eilert lists the construction of the new Johnson County Courthouse and new Medical Examiner Facility as another successful community investment, especially with approval by voters of a public safety sales tax to fund both projects.

The massive reconstruction of the Tomahawk Creek Wastewater Treatment Facility, just completed in Leawood, and plans to greatly improve the Nelson Wastewater Treatment Facility, just started in Mission, were essential and wise community investments.

There were challenges as well. The Great Recession strained county resources but without cutting public services.

More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic tested and at times divided the community in the best steps to control the spread of the disease and to ensure public health efforts in Johnson County.

Chairman Eilert plans to leave public office with fond memories.

As a new Johnson County retiree in 2023, he hopes to do some traveling, spending time with his family, relaxing a lot and staying active.

“I will try and get my golf swing back,” Eilert said with a smile.