Highland News Leader

Know Your Neighbor in Highland: Mark Latham, city manager

Highland News Leader

The Highland News Leader serves readers in Highland.
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The Highland News Leader serves readers in Highland.

Highland City Manager Mark Latham, who accepted the position in 2005, has many responsibilities, but he also has a great deal of experience and offers a listening ear to all in the community with his open-door policy.

Mark is the firstborn of Charles and Barbara Latham in Streator, Illinois, April 5, 1953, and later became a big brother to one sister. The family was active in the First Baptist Church and Mark said his father took the role as the family’s spiritual advisor very seriously.

His father, a World War II veteran, was strict, but loving. Barbara had come to America from Austria and both parents lived through the Great Depression. Because of that experience, his parents were frugal and passed this practice onto their children. Mark said he looked up to his dad and aspired to be like him.

“My mother used to tell me when I was little that I would always say ‘me do like daddy do.’ He taught me to have integrity; he was a great role model,” Mark said.

Mark has special memories of spending time with his grandfather, who lived next door and raised worms. He and his grandpa would often climb into the old Studebaker truck and go fishing in a nearby pond.

“But grandpa drove really slow,” recalled Mark. “So one day, because I was anxious to get to our fishing hole, I just extended my left foot over on top of grandpa’s foot on the accelerator and pushed.”

That was no doubt the first, and last, time Mark did that.

Swimming was Mark’s main priority and he was active on the YMCA swim team for many years. As a youngster he earned a little pocket money by gathering up garden vegetables in his little red wagon and selling them to neighbors. He also delivered the Streator Times Press on a paper route. During his teen years, six summers were spent at Honey Rock Camp in Northern Wisconsin.

In the late 60’s when The Rockabilly, Mop-Top and Crew Cut became popular hair styles for guys, Mark and his conservative father shared some minor disagreements about the new longer length of hair Mark was sporting. In 1971 Mark graduated from Streator High School. College funds were limited, but Mark was such a proficient swimmer, he landed a scholarship to John Brown Christian College In Siloam Springs, Arkansas.

During these years he earned his bachelor’s degree and he met two young ladies rooming together. Initially, he was attracted to one of them, but after having met her roomy, Marilae, his focus changed and he said “she was beautiful, smart, funny and I believed she was a good catch.” They married June 5, 1976, and there was a bonus — she was born and raised in Highland.

Stint as swim coach for $1.85 an hour, adopting a child

In 1977, Mark took a position as the city’s swim coach for a whopping $1.85 per hour. Two years later Siloam Springs Director of Parks and Recreation retired and the city manager contacted Mark saying, “I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news. The good news is that we want you to take over as director, but the bad news is we can only pay you $3.50 an hour.”

Mark accepted and stayed until 1993.

During this time, in 1984, a physician friend of the Lathams who knew they were wanting to adopt a child, called them. On Christmas Day 1984, a blond-haired, blue-eyed baby boy had been born to a 13-year-old girl. The Lathams wanted him, but were told by a neurologist the child had special needs and would never walk, talk, or interact with anyone.

“Not my child,” was Marilae’s response.

Mark said they availed themselves of every therapy possible at that time, including, speech, occupational and physical remedies. Additionally, they worked with him regularly to reach him and open his horizons; Mark said they prayed fervently for Derek.

April of 1993, Mark received a telephone call from the Siloam Springs mayor informing him he was the choice for filling in for an interim position as city manager.

“My first question to him was ‘why me?’” Mark said. “He informed me the community and council trusted me. So I completed a three-month internship and the temporary job turned into a permanent position until 2004, when the health of our parents was failing and we felt a need to return home.”

In the late 90’s, Mark had returned to college and attained a master’s degree in leadership and ethics.

Mark recalls one of his most difficult experiences occurred when a member of the Ku Klux Klan approached him in his city office in 2001 requesting to have a rally. In an effort to uphold the law and keep peace, he agreed. The gathering went without any disturbances, but Mark acknowledged it was most disconcerting.

Back in Highland in 2005, Mark applied to become Highland’s city manager and was accepted. He had planned recently to retire, but when the late Police Chief Terry Bell passed away a year ago, he said he “didn’t want to complicate imminent decisions the city would have to immediately make. My current term doesn’t expire until 2021,” said Mark.

How’s Derek doing?

By the way, how true were the predictions of the neurologist regarding Derek’s prognosis? Well, Derek began karate lessons at age 8 and by the time he turned 12, he had earned a black belt. He has competed in Special Olympics golf and hand ball in North Carolina, Kenya and Ireland, winning silver and gold medals.

Additionally, Derek has worked and purchased his own automobile, attained a driver’s license, is a volunteer fireman and has been a Walmart employee the past 14 years.

Mark said he hopes other parents of special needs children will realize “we were all created for a purpose and that prayer is critical to making a family work. We also need to pray for all leaders of our government on a daily basis.”

As far as his current goal for Highland, Mark said it is to “hold on to as many home-grown jobs as possible, manufacturing jobs and trying to create new work opportunities. Also we hope to improve our infrastructure, upgrade public facilities and keep our downtown strong.”