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As mayor of the tiny Kentucky town of Booneville for the last 55 years, Charles Long’s tenure is longer than the median age of his constituents. But America’s longest-serving and oldest mayor says his simple approach has left him with no regrets — and ready for another four-year term.
Long, 94, has never faced a political challenger since taking office in 1959, when the federal minimum wage was just a dollar and Dwight Eisenhower was in the White House. Those close to him say that’s because the affable World War II vet knows his Eastern Kentucky town and its 80-some-odd residents better than anyone.
“I keep busy, just pay attention to my people and what they need,” Long told FoxNews.com. “I’m doing the best I can as a Christian man and I have no regrets. I’ve done my darndest to do what I can.”
Long plans to run for his 15th term in the November race, once again unopposed. His most significant contribution to Booneville -- and part of the legacy that he runs on -- has been revamping Owsley County’s water system, extending lines into remote rural areas where residents previously had depended on wells and other means. Long boasted that 99 percent of county residents now enjoy direct access.
“That’s the project I’m most proud of,” he said Tuesday. “The first thing I wanted to do was to get water for the people of this county. The wells were dry and full of sulfur and stuff like that.”
Ronnie Callahan, Jr., Booneville’s administrator, said Long enjoys a reputation around town as an “honest man” and a great listener, two characteristics that have served him well through nearly six decades of public service.
“He has always wanted to do the right thing for the community,” Callahan wrote FoxNews.com. “Mayor Long has always told me that he loved everyone and had tried to show it in his life as a Christian.”
Long and other local politicians in the region, however, have had difficulty attracting businesses to Owsley County, where the median household income is $19,624 and nearly 40 percent of residents fall below the poverty line. Long considers bringing new jobs to the area his biggest challenge ahead, he said.
“I’m really trying to do something for the benefit of the county and for Booneville,” he said. “I want to be serving the people.”
Long’s dedication to all residents of the Blue Grass State has been noted by U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., who acknowledged his legacy in 2009, according to the Congressional Record.
“Since being elected to the office of Mayor 50 years ago, Mayor Long has set a high standard for public service and politics in Booneville,” Rogers said.
Long, meanwhile, told FoxNews.com he’s thankful for such a successful run, although he’s not slowing down just yet. He plans on seeking another term later this year if his health and degenerating knees allow it. In his spare time, he’ll continue going to every University of Kentucky men’s basketball game he can — a faithful trek to nearby Lexington he’s made since the early 1950s.
“I look forward to them every year,” said Long, adding that his favorite Wildcat was Charles “Cotton” Nash, who played on Adolph Rupp’s legendary teams. “I hardly miss a game.”
College basketball and dedication to his job — local legend has it he hasn’t missed a day in half a century — keeps Long plenty busy despite the pain of losing his wife of 72 years, Ruth, in 2012. Rarely does an hour go by without memories of the former beautician and homemaker, he said.
“She was really something,” Long continued, before his voice trailed off.
The lifelong Republican credited his late wife for supporting him through the years, saying she reminded him of the benefit of focusing on “serving the people” first. Long said that’s something the federal government needs to consider when dealing with problems like illegal immigration and violent conflicts overseas.
“The world’s in quite a fix right now, particularly regarding immigration and foreign policy,” he said. “I hate to see all those little kids not have a home. We need to provide services to the immigrants if we can afford it. But it’s going to take so much money to do all of this.”
Long’s perseverance has garnered praise from one of the few people who understand what it’s like to serve the same populace decade after decade. John Land — the 93-year-old former mayor of Apopka, Fla., who was ousted from his post in April after being elected in 1949 — acknowledged the success of his fellow nonagenarian.
“94 years old, you got me on age, so I’ll bow to him,” Land told FoxNews.com.