In January, without much fanfare, Eaton Rapids’ Jeremy Whittum became the chief executive officer of Eaton County as he began his four-year term as the chairman of the Eaton County Board of Commissioners.
A 1990 graduate of Eaton Rapids High School, Whittum has been active in governmental and political roles for much of his adult life. This is his second stint as a county commissioner. However, it is his first time in the position of chairman of the 15-member board, which is the governing body representing the citizens of Eaton County.
“Jeremy’s been 40 since he was born,” his father, Jim Whittum, said when Jeremy was elected as Hamlin Township supervisor in 1992. His son, he told a Lansing newspaper, always followed politics, wore neckties to school, and was president of his senior class.
“Life is too short to wear brown,” Whittum explains. Whittum is still known for his “styling and profiling,” as he refers to it, dressing in suits and wing-tip oxford shoes.
His grandparents were influential in his political aspirations, he said. “My grandfather told me to listen, analyze, and not say too much,” Whittum said.
Ronald Reagan was Whittum’s political inspiration, and he met the president in 1976. He was also influenced by Congressman Joe Schwarz, who he worked for, along with Rick Jones. Both Whittum and Jones currently are on the board of directors for Eaton Community Palliative Care.
Just six weeks out of high school, Whittum enlisted in the United States Army. He was part of the Michigan Army National Guard from 1990 until 2011, serving with the Army in Iraq in 2008 and 2009. He retired from the military in 2011.
“I believe that everyone should serve in the military right after high school,” he said. “We would be a better nation, and many would realize that we have much more in common than we realize.”
In 1992, at 21 years old, Whittum ran for and was elected the township supervisor for Hamlin Township, beating out incumbent Barb Rogers. At the time he was one of the youngest township supervisors in the state. It was also Rogers, who now represents District 15 on the Board of Commissioners, who Whittum recently beat for the County Commissioner Chairman role.
Since retiring from the Army, Whittum has worked as an economics professor at Kellogg Community College. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic reduced the class sizes this year, and classes have been canceled.
“What I like best about public service is when I am approached by someone with a question or comment, and I can help them out,” Whittum said. “Everyone should be able to access their public official.” He figures he spends 25 to 30 hours a week doing Eaton County Commissioner work.
“I have known Big Jer for a long, long time,” said former Eaton Rapids City Council member Thom Norris. “Him being ‘chairman of the board’ doesn’t surprise me much, after all, he’s always fancied himself a bit after Frank Sinatra.”
Whittum has one daughter, Rebecca, who lives in Charlotte. He is the sixth generation of Whittums living in the area, starting with Horace C. Whittum (1814-1899) who came to Eaton County from New York in 1836, and ran a lumber mill in Brookfield Township. Coincidentally, Horace Whittum served as supervisor of Brookfield Township.