As a Dance major, Gove never planned to enter politics, but JU ignited her passion for serving others.
In the small New England town of Amesbury, Mass., brick sidewalks connect tree-lined streets, flower boxes bloom against storefront windows in the spring, and a canopy of color marks the crisp onset of fall. Winters here are fit for a snow globe, and summers glitter with fireflies. There are steepled churches and restored textile mill buildings. A gazebo remains ready for gatherings in Town Park.
On any given day, the approximately 17,000 citizens of Amesbury can be found going about their business, exchanging friendly hellos at the grocery store, lending a helping hand whenever one is needed. There is a bustling downtown, complete with historic buildings and shops, and in the mayor’s office, there is a Jacksonville University alumna who loves this town and its people, and who credits JU with helping her ascend to the office she currently holds.
Kassandra Gove graduated in 2007. She is a dance education major. She is also the first female mayor of Amesbury, the first lifelong resident mayor of Amesbury and the youngest mayor the town has ever had.
“This is my hometown,” Gove said with pride. “It’s a very close-knit community filled with people who would give you the shirt off their back. They’ll help you do just about anything. They’ll raise money for your sick child, shovel your driveway, or lend you anything you need.”
It’s that sense of community, the warmth that comes from something other than the sun, that lured Gove away from Florida and South Carolina where she spent her undergraduate and graduate years. But her journey to the mayor’s office was anything but conventional.
Growing up in Amesbury, politics was the furthest thing from her mind. Gove was in the dance studio five days a week. She was captain of her dance company, and she wanted to pursue a degree in dance education, which is what initially drew her to JU. From day one, it was a match made in heaven.
“On move-in day, my parents pulled up with a Massachussetts license plate, and one of the fraternity guys saw the plate and was like, ‘I’m from Boston. Where are you from?’ He helped carry my stuff and met my parents and then connected me to a bunch of other people from New England. And so right from the start, from my first night on campus, I felt totally comfortable and made connections right away. I was thrilled. I loved it from the beginning.”
While attending JU, Gove discovered that same sense of community within the dance program, but it was the totality of her experience that would have a profound impact on her future pursuits.
“I really do point to JU a lot in that the ability to really customize my experience has allowed me to be where I am,” she said.
At JU, Gove took classes in leadership. She studied abroad. She worked in the student center, and she developed relationships with role models who encouraged her at every turn. One of those role models is the university’s current dean of students, Dr. Kristie Gover.
“I interned with Kristie Gover,” Gove recalled. “I started as a peer leader, then became a mentor and then oversaw the peer mentors, a position Kristie created for me. I did a lot with orientation, and I learned about setting expectations, developing communities and welcoming people to a new community.”
Gove has carried those lessons forward, along with a concept that she admired immensely while at JU and that she emulates in Amesbury today.
“Proximity to leadership is something I got to see in action,” she said. “I knew the president. I knew the vice president. I knew the dean of students, the director of housing, and I don’t think that was unique to me. Leadership at JU is very well connected with the students. They’re on campus. They’re accessible. In my leadership class, I learned about servant leadership and then I got to witness it. Now I am a public servant, and I truly feel like I’m here to make everybody’s job easier and to give everyone in my town the tools they need to be the most successful they can be. I think the environment JU creates has made that possible.”
Under Gove’s direction, the Amesbury Mayor’s office has become intentionally more approachable. Like the leaders who inspired her at JU, Gove is immersed in her own campus of sorts. She takes a daily walk through the grounds. She reads to schoolchildren. She waves whenever someone delivers a quick honk of support as they drive down the street. In her office, there are books and building blocks for her younger constituents, and she’ll answer questions on the spot for young and old alike. Her office is not some lofty ivory tower, and she doesn’t place herself on a pedestal.
“I’m human, just like you are,” she said. “And Amesbury is too small a town for you to not be able to just talk to me.”
Gove’s strong sense of community has been a hallmark of her professional journey. During her final semester at JU, she worked with the director of the dance program at Florida State College of Jacksonville, and after attending graduate school at the University of South Carolina, she returned to Massachussetts to work first at Clark University in Worcester, Gove, Massachussetts, and then at Boston University, which has a larger population than Amesbury itself. Along the way, she gained valuable experience in community building, housing, constituent relations, judicial affairs and marketing – experience she ultimately brought to the Amesbury Chamber of Commerce where she served as director for five years and where she got her first taste of politics.
“I started with advocacy and following legislation and understanding how government decisions affected individual businesses and business owners,” Gove said. “And I was teaching business owners how to do market analysis and how to understand their customers, so they could serve them better. In my eyes, these same businesses are customers of the government, but I wasn’t seeing government doing things to serve them better, so I just thought maybe it’s my turn. Maybe I could do this better. Maybe I could bring all of these skills that I’ve developed in all these other communities and just dedicate them to the community I care so much about because for me, local government is not about politics. It’s about people, and we need to serve the people who live here and just be more responsive.”
Gove’s first campaign was a grassroots affair that relied heavily on door-knocking and a handful of volunteers. She greeted customers in coffee shops and held Q&A sessions in local homes, and her servantleadership ideology and her devotion to her hometown struck a chord with the citizens of Amesbury.
She was elected to her first term in November of 2019. She started her first term in January 2020. Less than three months later, COVID swept across the county, and her beloved community looked to her for guidance. In response, she launched a daily Facebook Live broadcast, that kept her in touch, albeit virtually, with the town; delivered timely information; and featured guest speakers who helped make sense of the rapidly evolving situation. It was during one of these broadcasts that she announced the town’s first COVID fatality.
“I cried,” she remembered. “It was hard, but we were all going through it. We were in it together and processing it together.”
Gove still holds a weekly Facebook Live session. She has since won her second election, and she started her second term in January 2022. In quieter moments, she often reflects on the winding road that brought her to her current post, and those thoughts inevitably turn to Jacksonville University.
“I need to get back there sometime,” she said wistfully. “I miss the people and my classmates and the immersive experience I had. I was so fortunate to leave this area and to attend a school in a city that is so diverse in race, culture and socioeconomic status but that still felt like a home away from home.”
There was a time when Gove’s wanderlust and a desire to dance led her to a Dolphin family that is so very proud of her and her accomplishments, but her heart will always belong to Amesbury. When asked what she loves most about being the mayor of the town where she grew up, and where her father attended the same schools she did, and where everybody knows everybody, and the streets are full of friends instead of strangers, her answer was swift and sure.
“Everything,” she responded with a smile in her voice. “I love it all.”