UPDATED: Local County Commissioner Dave Weitala diesDavison County officials were shocked Tuesday morning to learn the news of Commissioner Dave Weitala's death.
By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic
Davison County Commissioner Dave Weitala, 60, died of a heart attack Tuesday morning after shoveling snow at his Mitchell home.
Funeral services, which will be at Northridge Baptist Church in Mitchell, are delayed pending the notification of a daughter who is vacationing in the Far East. Funeral arrangements are under the direction of Bittner Funeral Home, Mitchell.
The county commissioners said the courthouse will be closed for several hours on the day of the funeral to allow county employees to attend services.
The news was a stunner for the county board, which had assembled for its regular Tuesday morning meeting and had just taken public input on roads from county resident Clark Edwards.
Weitala, typically punctual, still hadn’t arrived, and the commissioners directed Auditor Susan Kiepke to call him. Weitala’s wife, Kim, answered the call.
“What? Oh, Kim, I’m so sorry,” Kiepke could be heard saying as her voice rose. Putting down the phone, she turned to the commissioners and said, “Dave died,” and burst into tears.
“We’ll do what we have to do and adjourn,” said Vice Chairman Jerry Fischer, who ran the meeting in place of Weitala, who was the chairman. Fischer directed the paying of bills and the handling of essential county business.
“It’s a sad day,” he said. “This is not a good thing for anybody. It’s the way the Lord works. You don’t expect these days.”
Fischer later said the commission will soon request applicants and choose someone to appoint for the remainder of Weitala’s term, which runs through 2014.
After a brief moment of silence and a group prayer led by Commissioner John Claggett, Tuesday’s commission meeting, which began at 9 a.m., adjourned at 9:50 a.m.
The abbreviated meeting was fine with Commissioner Gerald Weiss, who said, “I don’t feel like going on anymore. As far as I’m concerned, the Lord got a good man.”
Commissioner Denny Kiner said he had learned to respect Weitala’s capacity for decision-making.
“Dave was a heck of a statesman. He had a lot of concern for the county, he had a lot of deep convictions about moving the county forward. He was sincere and level-headed, and didn’t make a decision until he heard both sides of the story.”
Weitala was appointed in June 2004 to serve out the term of former District 1 Commissioner Gary Butterfield, who had moved from his district.
Weitala went on to win two elections. He was in his second elected term of office at the time of his death. He had twice served as chairman of the county board.
He was active in the community. At the time of his commission appointment, he was an overseer at the Northridge Baptist Church and had served on boards for the Prehistoric Indian Village and the Mitchell Main Street renovation project.
He was proprietor of The Walk Shop shoe store, which had been opened by his father. Weitala was involved with the store for nearly 30 years before deciding to close it in September 2007.
Weitala had worked for the past two and a half years as assistant manager for the Burger King restaurant on North Main Street. Restaurant manager Tim Hillman said the news “was quite a shock.”
“Everybody here is going to miss him,” Hillman said.
While Weitala dealt with some health issues, there were no physical indications the end was so close, friends said.
“I had just talked to him Monday night about the things we were going to work on down the road to improve the county,” Fischer said. “Dave was always so optimistic. It’s a tragic loss.”
Claggett said he appreciated Weitala’s facility with numbers. He said he had spoken with Weitala, who was looking forward to planning the move of the community health nursing staff to the vacated Central Electric building on North Main Street later this year.
At 60, Weitala was the youngest member of the commission and the second to die in office recently. Commissioner Dick Ziegler died in July 2009. It was Ziegler who nominated Weitala to take over Butterfield’s District 1 commission seat in 2004.
Former commissioner Carol Millan, who seconded that nomination, said she did so because she was a customer at Weitala’s store for years and knew him to be honest, energetic, and at the same time, easy-going.
“Whether it was his family, church, business or county commission, Dave always gave 100 percent and usually with a smile and enthusiasm,” Millan said. “Dave was the kind of guy you needed on the commission. He was careful with taxpayer money, but also worked for fair pay and benefits for the employees. One of Dave’s wishes as chairman this year had been to develop better usage of the 4-H building, and I hope the commissioners will make that a priority in his honor.”
Zoning Administrator Dan Sudrla said, “He’s going to be missed. I wish his family the best.”
Register of Deeds Deb Young said, “He was a good, conscientious commissioner with common sense. I feel badly for his family.”
Auditor Kiepke said Weitala was a good commissioner.
“It’s a very sad day for the county. Dave didn’t say a lot, but what he said was always important. He cared about the county, he cared about its employees, and he will be very missed.”
He was married to Kim Weitala, the manager of AAA Travel in Mitchell. The couple would have been married 25 years in February. They have five daughters: Alexis, Rani, Johanna, Elysa and Zoe, who is a junior at Mitchell High School.
Weitala, who was born Oct. 21, 1951, in Aberdeen, is also survived by family members including his parents, Delbert and Helen Weitala, of Mitchell; two brothers: Dennis, who lives in Brookings, and D.J., who lives in White Bear Lake, Minn.; and a sister, Deb Weitala, of Mitchell, who is a ministry assistant at Northridge Baptist Church.