Yaede follows the examples set for her
Kelly Yaede grew up in the shadow of the municipal building, a half-mile walk from her Victor Avenue home to the township offices on Greenwood Avenue.
From a young age, Yaede would make the trip to town hall. She’d visit her father, Fred, a township construction official, or maybe say hello to then-mayor Jack Rafferty, a family friend.
Yaede would get her own municipal government work experience a decade later, as a summer aide for Rafferty. She went on to hone her political skills working on the joint campaign of then-state Assemblyman Paul Kramer and former Sen. Peter Inverso. Yaede later won a seat on the Hamilton Township Board of Education, and in 2006, on the township council.
On Nov. 30, 2012, she became the first female mayor in township history, after a majority of township council—including herself—voted for her to fill the vacancy created by fellow Republican John Bencivengo’s resignation. Bencivengo quit after being found guilty in district court on five corruption counts.
Now, Yaede is one of three hopefuls to finish out the remaining two years on Bencivengo’s term. Voters will make their pick Nov. 5.
Yaede, 45, said her family had high expectations for her, and insisted she strive for the best. Her family was where “a young girl got the idea to be the mayor.”
“I was always raised that I could do anything that I wanted,” Yaede said. “I was always told that. My entire life I was told that. That’s why when the opportunity came to be mayor, I didn’t want to give it up.”
In the process, Yaede has surprised a few people, including those who know her well.
“No, I didn’t [expect her to go into politics],” Rafferty said. “We had an awful lot of students come in year round, and some of them were good. Some of them lacked a little bit; they just weren’t interested in what they were doing. Kelly, I never figured she would get involved in politics. Then, I never thought of it.
“Of course, she got involved in politics … I took special interest in Kelly to see if she had what it takes to, first of all, win an election and how she went about attracting votes from people. She was excellent. She has a great personality. She’s a good-looking young lady. She mingles with the people. She really cares about them and what their problems are.”
Yaede has spent nearly her whole life developing her method.
She received her first taste of public life at 9, when her father ran to be fire commissioner in Hamilton Township Fire District No. 4. She still has vivid memories from the day her father won the office, including how the engine bay at the firehouse was arranged and the temperature there.
She said she particularly recalls the excitement in the room as it had become clear Fred Yaede won.
“I remember that energy, and it stayed with me,” Yaede said.
The example set by Fred Yaede and other family members guided Yaede toward public service. Her great-grandfather, Willard Grimm, served as a justice of the peace. Her grandparents were both president of the senior citizens coalition in Hamilton.
Those examples, coupled with a competitive personality, made politics almost a foregone conclusion for Yaede. She ran for her first office at Nottingham High School, a class president race against eight opponents. She won.
Running a campaign and winning an election gave Yaede a kick of adrenaline she still seeks today.
When she’s not running for office, Yaede said she still tries to push her limits by doing extreme sports. She has gone skydiving. Several months ago, she raced a modified racecar at Wall Stadium Speedway. She had plans to drive a stockcar in Flordia, either at a track located in Walt Disney World or at Daytona International Speedway. People within her campaign nixed it, fearing she could get injured. Yaede said she hopes to get behind the wheel at some point after the election.
In the end, being involved in politics and participating in daredevil activities comes down to one thing for Yaede: not letting fear run her life. She said her largest fear is not challenging herself.
“You’re going to have trepidation, questions and doubts in life,” Yaede said. “You have to overcome them and get through it.
“Whenever you want to affect change, you have to put yourself out there. You have to run. You have to lead. You have to put your opinion out there about how you’re going to make something better. It takes gumption to do that.”
Yaede has chosen to do that in Hamilton, perhaps passing up some prime career opportunities in the process.
Rafferty, the longtime mayor, recalled a request he received from state Sen. Kip Bateman several years ago. Rafferty said Bateman asked him to convince Yaede to run for state assembly. Yaede flatly declined the offer, when Rafferty brought it up, saying she wanted to focus on Hamilton.
Yaede pointed out she isn’t the only person raised in Hamilton who has spent a lifetime—let alone a career—entirely in Hamilton.
“A lot of Hamiltonians want to come back,” Yaede said. “We’re a very parochial town. It’s amazing.”
Yaede’s family has deep roots in the township, going back to at least her grandparents. Her father has spent his whole life in Hamilton, and grew up down the street from Rafferty.
The connection may go deeper, though. In Yaede’s office, she has a certificate from 1929 ordaining her great-grandfather Willard Grimm as a justice of the peace. It was awarded in Hamilton.
Her grandfather, Webster Grimm, ran an insurance business on Greewood Avenue, a block away from town hall. Yaede, as a teenager, held her first job at Grimm Insurance, and watched how her grandfather worked.
Yaede said her grandfather amazed her with his generosity. He would often assist families who couldn’t make their payments.
“He would take the money out of his pocket,” she said.
That doesn’t mean Yaede would be as lucky. She said her family continually emphasized that she had to work for everything she wanted. Before Kindergarten, she was told her only focus should be to get a good education. She was expected to be a honor roll student. If she did that, she would earn privileges and allowance. They are messages now being passed down to the next generation of Yaedes, she said.
This new generation just is going through a continuation of what Yaede experienced as a child. Yaede has two sisters, one brother and an adopted brother, all of whom were watched after by a large, involved and local extended family. Aunts and uncles were around always ensuring all the children were succeeding.
“Growing up, the expectations on the children were high,” Yaede said. “We weren’t expected to be perfect. We were expected to be excellent and strive to be the best.”
Aside from academic and extra-curricular expectations, the Yaede children were also required to eat dinner with the rest of the family every night. No excuses.
To this day, the Yaedes still gather for family dinner every Sunday at her parents’ home near the Grounds For Sculpture. The whole family attends, including Yaede’s dog.
And in case anyone worried about Yaede losing touch with her roots, she said people shouldn’t. Her family has kept her in check.
“Even the mayor is expected to be there,” Yaede said. “There are no exemptions for that.”