ORIGINALLY WRITTEN LAURA CAMPBELL
The Bee Gees’ hit song “Staying Alive” may or may not have been one of Delores Dalke’s favorites when she first got involved in city politics during the 1970s.
But the title certainly seems to convey Dalke’s long-running aim for Hillsboro not just to survive but to thrive, as she begins her 12th year as its mayor.
Dalke grew up in Hillsboro but moved with her family to Wichita during high school, graduating from Wichita North.
After attending Tabor College and Friends University, she worked various positions at a bank and an insurance agency in downtown Wichita before marrying husband John and moving back to Hillsboro.
In her 43 years in Hillsboro, Dalke has served the community in a variety of positions.
“I worked at the hospital in the office for a period of time, and then I raised my family,” Dalke said. “I was busy with three children, more or less, at the same time.”
Dalke rejoined the workforce at Great Plains Federal Credit Union for five years. In 1979, she purchased the Real Estate Center, which she currently runs as its broker.
She also entered city politics during this time, serving on the recreation commission, the planning and zoning board and the Hillsboro Housing Authority.
In 1984, she was elected to the city council and served three consecutive two-year terms.
Her reason for pursuing the position was simple.
“At the time, I felt like some of the council decisions weren’t progressive for Hillsboro, and I wanted to see Hillsboro moving forward,” she said.
In 1991, after a year away from city politics, Dalke ran for mayor and won. Except for a two-year period from 1995 to 1997, she has served in this position ever since.
Dalke said she ran for mayor for the same thing she ran for city council: progress.
“I felt we needed a mayor with some strong leadership ability,” she said. “I wanted to see Hillsboro grow and go forward.
“There were just a lot of things that I thought Hillsboro needed to do,” she added. “That’s why I ran, and that’s why I’m still mayor.”
From the Hillsboro Heights addition in 1998 to the renovation of Main Street in 2003, Dalke said her favorite part of being mayor is making things happen.
She’s got a long list of things she wants to make happen during the two-year term she’s just begun.
“Right now, we’re in the middle of a lot of projects that I’d like to see completed,” she said.
These include major upgrades at the new water plant, the development of a new wastewater lagoon system and construction of an aquatic center, she said.
But the body of water that needs special attention for the long-term good of the community is Marion Reservoir, she said, and “the problem with the blue-green algae.”
“It’s not even in Hillsboro, but it affects Hillsboro greatly,” she said. “We absolutely have to take care of that lake. Not only is that the (source for) drinking water for Marion and Hillsboro, but it’s also our major tourist attraction for this area.
“We need those people coming to Marion County, because when they come to spend a day or two, or a week, they come to our stores and they spend money in our communities.
“To me, that has to be our major long-term goal for the vitality of Hillsboro.”
Because Dalke’s plate is so full of projects for this term, she said she’s grateful to have a good city administrator in Steve Garrett to help with day-to-day operation of the city.
This position, created just a few years ago, has lightened Dalke’s load considerably, she said, enabling her to continue working on these projects as mayor while running her own business.
Dalke said she particularly relied on Garrett in 2003, the year she served as president of the Kansas Board of Realtors.
“That required a lot of travel and took a lot of time,” she said. “In fact, I drove 10,000 miles that year just within the state.”
Dalke said she wishes she had more time to devote to both her public and private enterprises.
“It takes a lot of my time,” she said of being mayor, a position that pays just $300 per month for what can some weeks be a full-time job. “I see it as being sometimes a negative for running my own business because I get spread thin between trying to do my personal business and trying to take care of the business that needs to be done for the city.
“My biggest regret is not having the time to follow up on some of the problems in the community, just because of time constraints,” she said.
Still, Dalke said she is grateful that her line of work allows her the flexibility to be mayor.
“That is one advantage of being self-employed in comparison to someone who has somebody they have to report to 9 to 5,” she said. “It’d be almost be impossible to have this position and be a 9-to-5 person who was employed by somebody else.
“It’s just varied, and you have to be willing to go with the flow-you know, whatever needs to be done.”
What needs to be done more often than anything else, she said, is to attend meetings.
“I try to attend all of the boards and commission meetings at least some of the time,” she said.
“That takes a lot of time, because we have a lot of boards and commissions.”
Dalke also travels outside Hillsboro for meetings.
“I attend a lot of meetings that have to do with grant writing or the possibilities of obtaining money from different sources,” she said. “That’s probably the thing people don’t realize-you go to Abilene, Salina, Topeka, Hays… to find out what needs to go into a particular program in order to make it eligible for money.”
When she has time, Dalke said, she enjoys addressing the public at other gatherings, whether formal or informal. She especially likes talking to students.
“I enjoy letting people know what’s happening,” she said.
In her free time, Dalke has every reason to stick around Hillsboro. Her Ebenfeld Church family and her own family-including three sons and two grandchildren-live in Hillsboro.
Oldest son John works with her in the Real Estate Center office, Mark is in construction and Matt is the city’s recreation director.
“That’s really neat to have my family close to me,” she said.
In fact, being with family is one of her favorite activities, period.
“My main hobby is spending time with my grandchildren,” she said.
For all these reasons, Hillsboro is truly home “in every sense of the word,” Dalke said, and she is proud to be a member and a leader of a thriving town.
“Hillsboro is a growing community versus a lot of small communities that are going the other way,” she said. “We have a can-do attitude around here, that we can accomplish things.”
The presence of Tabor College, Dalke said, also helps keep Hillsboro alive and growing.
“That also helps us with our positive attitude because of all the new people that come in each year,” she said. “It keeps us going and keeps the town moving forward.”
Dalke saidshe hopes to be remembered for her unique part in this continuing growth.
“Hillsboro has an overall vitality, and people think maybe that just happens, but it doesn’t,” she said. “It takes constant massaging to keep everything going, to help all the different areas.
“We as a community are more cooperative with each other than what we have been in the past,” she added. “It seems to me that we’ve been pulling together, and that’s what I want to be remembered for.”