Sherry Butcher Wickstrom has learned to like sweet tea.
To tout her candidacy for mayor of Manteo – an island community of about 1,600 residents in North Carolina’s Outer Banks – Butcher Wickstrom knocks on the doors of Manteo’s approximately 800 households, knowing from experience that, in Manteo, running for local office isn’t simply a matter of ringing the doorbell, introducing herself and leaving behind some campaign literature.
“Every time you go to a household,” she said, “they ask you to sit on their sofa and drink sweet tea. I have never worked so hard for votes.”
Manteo is about 1,400 miles southeast of Eden Prairie, where Butcher Wickstrom served on the City Council from 1997 to 2008, and from 2011 until 2018.
That evening in October 2018, she said a tearful goodbye to the City Council. She and her husband, Mark, were retiring to Manteo, a community that Butcher Wickstrom knew well from her childhood, part of which was spent in North Carolina.
That October 2018 City Council meeting was, in fact, the last time Butcher Wickstrom was in Eden Prairie.
However, she and her husband returned to Minnesota on Sunday. They came into the Twin Cities, then headed to a rented lake home in an undisclosed location up north, where she will be joined by her close friends, Eden Prairie Mayor Ron Case and his wife, Kathie Case. The Wickstroms’ last night in Minnesota will be spent at the Case home in Eden Prairie, in early August.
Ron Case said he’s delighted, but not at all surprised, that Butcher Wickstrom continued her habit of civic service in North Carolina.
“Public service, serving politically, running for elected office is in her blood,” he said. “I wasn’t surprised that, when she moved to a new community, she got involved similarly, as she was very involved in Eden Prairie.”
“Involved” is an understatement.
Not long after arriving in Manteo, Butcher Wickstrom became active in civic affairs. In the last five years, her resume includes:
- Chairing the Manteo Planning and Zoning Board.
- Chairing the Manteo Preservation and Architectural Review Committee.
- Chairing the Manteo Plan Update, which focuses on a 20-year plan for Manteo.
- Sitting on the board of the Downtown Associate Community Program, which a year ago was designated as a Main Street program.
- Serving on the Manteo Town Common Advisory Task Force.
Like many small communities, Manteo is populated by many of the descendants of its settlers from centuries ago. Butcher Wickstrom noted, however, that about two-thirds of Manteo’s residents have lived there for 20 years or less.
“I have felt them to be so welcoming of me as a newcomer,” she said.
In November 2021, Butcher Wickstrom was elected to a four-year term on Manteo’s Board of Commissioners, the equivalent of a city council.
Unlike Eden Prairie’s “weak mayor” format of municipal government, Butcher Wickstrom said, the mayor of Manteo is, in effect, the community’s chief executive officer, in addition to holding ceremonial responsibilities.
Butcher Wickstrom’s opponent in the mayoral race is Bobby Owens, who is in his 90s and now in his third two-year term as mayor.
“I know Bobby Owens,” she said. “I know him well and I can’t say a bad thing about him.”
Butcher Wickstrom said she would bring to the mayor’s post the lessons she learned from serving on the Eden Prairie City Council.
“Always listen. Always do your homework. Think deeply,” she said. “The decisions we make in local government can impact people’s everyday life, and often does.”
One example she cited: Whether to use tax increment financing to revitalize the Eden Prairie Center, which in the 1990s was decaying. (The mall was the setting of the 1995 movie “Mallrats.”) TIF funding requires municipalities to defer reaping tax revenue benefits that would stem from improvements in the property’s value.
In 2007, there was heated discussion in the Eden Prairie City Council about the future of Bent Creek Golf Club, whose owners wanted to sell the property for development. The council, citing zoning and open-spaces agreements dating back to the 1970s, turned back proposals to develop the property as something other than a golf course.
Butcher Wickstrom noted, however, that Manteo faces some issues that are not part of Eden Prairie’s ethos. The municipal government works closely with state, regional and federal coastal authorities, she said, and there are ongoing environmental issues.
“We’re doing all we can to maintain our marshes,” she said. “If we don’t, we’ll get a storm, which could cause the island to sink.”
One of Manteo’s best-known denizens is a man who will forever be associated with North Carolina – actor Andy Griffith, who spent his final years in Manteo until his 2012 death.
Griffith is very much a presence in Manteo, even now, Butcher Wickstrom said.
“He used to call Manteo Mayberry,” she said. “Andy used to say, ‘Come sit on my front porch, and let me tell you of the dreams we keep.’ Our porches are all about community.”
Butcher Wickstrom noted she and Mark built their house in Manteo to reflect the typical architectural style of the area. Some of her neighbors even mistake it for a vintage house that has been expertly restored.
It’s all part, she said, of knowing your community, respecting its history and building its future.
“I have a heart for Eden Prairie,” Butcher Wickstrom said, “and I have a heart for North Carolina.”
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