Mayor, fire chief, papaw
By Veronica Teeter

Jeff McFarland celebrates his grandson Owen after his team wins their academic bowl. Owen represents the North Middletown Elementary team; the school is the last rural elementary school in Bourbon County outside of Paris.

Jeffrey McFarland says he thought there would be a law stopping him from serving as both the mayor and the volunteer fire chief. But there isn’t. And Jeff couldn’t pass up the opportunity to serve his hometown. "I’ve been to a lot of places and traveled quite a bit,” he says. “But you know, there’s no place that really caught my eye that I would want to leave North Middletown for.”

Jeff, 61, was a firefighter who rose through the ranks at the Paris Fire Department for 17 years, until he retired in 2016. He quickly discovered retirement didn’t suit him.

“I don't think I would be happy if I wasn't doing something,” he says. “I saw the need to try to help out.”

Jeff has served as North Middletown's mayor since 2007, as the North Middletown volunteer fire chief since 1999 and has run his family business, McFarland Camper Rental, since 2017.
Public service is a family tradition for the McFarlands. His father, James, joined the North Middletown Volunteer Fire Department in 1959 and later became the chief. During that time the current fire station was built using funds raised by the fire department’s Ladies Auxiliary group that his mother, Jerry Ann, was a part of.

“I think the obligation comes from what I saw from him,” Jeff says of growing up seeing his dad put his life on the line for others.

“It was kind of a natural progression for me,” he says. “I tagged along with my dad on calls from the time I just about could walk.” Jeff signed up to be an official firefighter the year he turned 18.

He also has two older brothers and a younger sister who volunteered with the fire department. Now his son, Wesley, is continuing the family tradition, working alongside his dad at the fire department as the volunteer fire captain.

Jeff wears a lot of different hats, he says, whether it’s being mayor, a firefighter, a business owner or a member of the North Middletown Christian Church. But being a grandfather tops them all. Jeff’s son Wesley has two sons: Weston, 11, and Owen, 9.

“The Papaw hat’s my most favorite,” he says. “It really is.”

Jeff and his wife Sarah get to see Weston and Owen just about every day. They spend time with their grandsons after school, working on homework, eating dinner together, attending academic competitions and helping the boys get ready for sports practices.

Jeff and Sarah are also looking out for Weston and Owen’s future.

The boys help with the family camper business and Jeff pays them by depositing money into a savings account they can access when they’re older, maybe for a car. He would love to see his grandsons take over the business one day, if they so choose. “You always want to do something for your kids and your grandkids,” he says. “To kind of give them a leg up.”

The busy life of a public servant is a lot of fun for Jeff. He says he’s always putting out fires, whether with the city, the fire department, or his business. But spending time with his grandsons and his 80-pound English bulldog Fritz is “the break I need from everything else.”

While getting ready to restock a camper before a rental camper delivery, Jeff warns Fritz not to run out the door behind him. Jeff says that after he retired from the Paris fire department, he started the family camper rental business with the one camper they already owned; they now have seven.

Jeff meets with site superintendent David Parker (left) on the Community Storm Shelter construction project. Jeff has been working on the project since 2015. The city clerk and treasurer of North Middletown Lee Ginter says, “People do not know what he has gone through to get this to happen … I think that should be his legacy.”

Jeff works on getting property taxes mailed out from the mayor’s office. “I’ve been to a lot of places and traveled quite a bit,” Jeff says. “But you know, there’s no place that really caught my eye that I would want to leave North Middletown for.”

Jeff checks on the construction progress of the Community Storm Shelter; he is acting as the on-site observer to save the city costs. The storm shelter, when not in use, will be a community center and have an extension that includes the fire station. “I really think that this community center is going to be kind of a spotlight for North Middletown,” Jeff said. “People are excited about having a new place to call our own.”

(From left) Sarah, Owen, Weston, and Jeff eat dinner at Jerry’s Restaurant. “I tell everybody that if I had known they were as much fun as they are, I would have had them instead of my son," Jeff says about his grandsons.

Jeff helps tie his grandson Owen’s cleats before practice when Owen giggles and Jeff gives him a stern look. "I farted," Owen says.

Jeff and his wife Sarah wait with their English bulldog Fritz and their dachshund Ellie Mae for Owen to get off the school bus. “If I put the leg up on my recliner, he’s in my lap,” Jeff said of Fritz. “I can have the worst day in the world and come home and he doesn’t care … the unconditional love and mutual respect that we have is pretty cool.”

Jeff and his son Wesley have matching tattoos of the fire department emblem, the Maltese cross, with the words “Family Tradition” inside. “I’m 61 years old and I’ve got one tattoo,” Jeff says. “And that’s all I’ll ever have, and we both got them at the same time. And I thought that’s pretty special to me that he wanted to do that.”