Delores Dalke’s mayoral tenure nears a successful conclusion

From the development of Hillsboro Heights, to rebuilding Main Street to a new facility for Hillsboro Community Hospital, the city benefitted from Delores Dalke’s leadership. City staff will be hosting a reception for Dalke from 3-5 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 28, at 118 E. Grand Ave. The public is invited to congratulate Dalke for her work with the city and enjoy refreshments.
From the development of Hillsboro Heights, to rebuilding Main Street to a new facility for Hillsboro Community Hospital, the city benefitted from Delores Dalke’s leadership. City staff will be hosting a reception for Dalke from 3-5 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 28, at 118 E. Grand Ave. The public is invited to congratulate Dalke for her work with the city and enjoy refreshments.
As Delores Dalke completes 24 years of service as Hillsboro’s mayor on Dec. 31, she is aware that she has established a couple of historical “firsts” aside from the many projects she helped shepherd to completion during her tenure.

Dalke is the first woman to serve as mayor in the city’s history, she has served longer in that capacity than any other Hillsboro mayor, and she is currently the oldest mayor to serve.

Early years

Those kinds of achievements were not on her radar during Dalke’s youth and the early years of her occupational path.

Dalke was 2 years old when her family moved to Hillsboro. She grew up in the community through her junior year of high school.

Then her parents decided to move to Wichita.

“I didn’t want to go because of my senior year in high school,” she said. “I had gotten so used to knowing what I was doing here, knowing my friends, knowing everything, that when I went to a new place where I didn’t know anybody, I was forced to make new friends.

“You know what?” she added. “That was really good for me for later in life.”

So, instead of graduating locally with her class of 40 students at Hillsboro High, she was one of 531 Wichita North seniors who crossed the stage that year.

For a year, Dalke attended Friends University, then decided to transfer to Tabor College.

“I had to start all over again learning to know people—so you know, I guess that’s what I’ve done my whole life,” she said.

Dalke studied at Tabor until her family ran out of money.

“Back then there weren’t student loans and those kind of things,” she said. “My parents weren’t in a position at that time to help me because my sister was also in nurses training and they had to pay for that or else she would have gotten kicked out.”

Dalke chose to drop out of college and accepted an accounting job with an insurance agency in Wichita.

“I started out majoring in math, and along the way I figured out the only thing—you have to remember this was in the late ’50s—a woman could do with a major in math was teach, if you were lucky. I did not want to be a teacher, so I switched to accounting.”

During that time, she met her future husband, John, fell in love, got married in 1962—and then came back to Hillsboro, where she took an accounting position with Salem Hospital.

“I did accounting for them until after I had two kids and decided I needed to stay home and take care of my family,” she said.

A few years later, Dalke returned to the workforce at the credit union in Hillsboro, then worked in McPherson for a year.

In 1979, she decided to go into the real-estate field full time. She purchased the Real Estate Center from the estate of former owner Paul Rund­strum, who had just died in a plane crash near Hillsboro.

Interest in public service

Serving on several local boards and commissions is what stirred Dalke’s interest in city government.

“I served on the Planning and Zoning Board, then I started on the Recreation Commission and served on the Housing Authority.

“Along the way, I felt like city government needed to be perked up a little, so I decided to run for council and was on the council for six years,” she said. “I felt like we needed better council representation, so that’s why I ran at that time.”

Dalke decided not to run for re-election in 1990. At the time, she and a business partner were preparing to launch the first phase of the Carriage Hills housing subdivision.

“I didn’t feel I could do that very well sitting on the city council—especially at that time we had one council person who was against that project,” she said. “I felt like if I came in as a member of the public, I could probably get more done—which is what happened.”

In 1991, when Mayor Harold Wiebe decided not to seek another term, Dalke reconsidered her options and decided to run for mayor.

She lost the mayor’s election to Bob Hein, who later served as county commissioner for several years.

“I have always felt that was the Lord’s will that he beat me in that election, because my mom and dad were both sick, and they both needed my help,” Dalke said. “Once I wasn’t mayor I had a lot more time. They both died in ’95, actually within three weeks of each other.”

During that time, the first phase of Carriage Hills was completed and the second phase had begun.

When Hein opted not to seek re-election after one term, Dalke ran again and has been serving as mayor ever since.

Key projects

Under Dalke’s leadership, the council has worked progressively to improve the community and build a better future.

She looks back with satisfaction on a list of significant projects that city government achieved since the mid-1990s.

• The Hillsboro Heights commercial development is at the top of her list.

“There was nothing out in that area,” Dalke said. “The new highway was there, but there was nothing from Hillsboro that would get people to get off of the highway. The city paid for all of it—all the streets and utilities. There were no special assessments out there.

“I think that was one of the exciting things that happened.”

• Main Street was rebuilt.

“The street itself was lowered and totally redone,” Dalke said. “I think (the old street) was about 15 inches taller in the middle of the street before that project was done. I could stand outside my office and I could not see the curb on the west side of the street.

“You never wanted to drive downtown if it was icy because you could never back away from the curbs,” she added. “But once that was all taken out—you don’t have any trouble with that today. We had all the new light posts put in, and all of those kind of things.”

• Rebuilding the truck route on Ash Street.

“That happened to be done with a grant from the state because it was considered part of the truck route,” Dalke said. “It was a very needed project.”

• The city purchased 80 acres of land on the southwest corner of the U.S. 56 Highway and Industrial Road, where the new hospital now operates.

About that same time, the second phase of Carriage Hills and the Willow Glen subdivision were underway on the south end of the city, and the Prairie Pointe development was launched on the east side.

“There was quite a bit going on at that time,” she said.

• Recreational facilities.

“We had the sports complex competely built before that time, and then the next thing was building the aquatic center,” Dalke said.

• City utility upgrades.

“We rebuilt the water plant and increased its volume,” Dalke said. “We built a new sewer lagoon system to replace the mechanical system.

“We also built a new electric substation. That gets to be pretty important when places are going out on electricity.”

• The city has replaced streets in the past five years or so, the most recent being replacing streets around Tabor College.

Health care

The most significant project for Dalke has been ensuring that Hillsboro has access to local, quality health care.

The nine-year journey began in 1988 when the city decided to purchase the facility used by Salem Hospital.

“It was one of those times when the hospital was needing money and didn’t have it, and something had to happen in order to make sure that we could save the hospital,” Dalke said.

“I remember saying we’re trying to make sure the hospital has adequate funds so they can keep going.”

When the for-profit firm HMC/CAH Inc. offered to purchase the medical services of the hospital and promised to build a new facility, the city council accepted the offer. Various issues delayed the project for several years.

“I had actually planned to not run for mayor two years ago,” Dalke said. “But since the hospital was not built, I felt like it was really important to stick around to make sure that was going to happen.”

The company’s promise was finally fulfilled in April with the official dedication of the new facility.

“We’ve got a good facility now, we’ve got good doctors in there, we have good nurses and staff,” Dalke said. “I think it’s a very good facility. It’s probably one of the things I’m proudest of that we were able to do that.”

Looking back

Dalke’s success as mayor came with a price. The considerable time she devoted to city business was time she could not give to her own business enterprise.

“It definitely affected it because there are some people who, after I became mayor, probably thought I wasn’t in the real estate business anymore—that being mayor was a full-time position. And sometimes it has felt like it is.”

Dalke said she occasionally heard negative comments from the public about being “a woman mayor.”

“Being the first woman mayor, of course I got that,” she said. “I will say that on the statewide level, the meetings I’ve been going to (as mayor), there are a whole lot more women involved in city government now than there were 20-some years ago.

“I don’t know that it makes any difference what gender you are,” she added. “As long as you take the time to listen to the people and hear what they want to tell you, that’s what’s important.”

Communication has been a key issue for Dalke. When she was first elected mayor in 1991, on of the first things she did was call a meeting of the city employees.

“I said to them, ‘Things are going to be different because you have never worked for anybody except Harold Wiebe,’” Dalke said. “‘I’m different, I’m not Harold Wiebe. I’m not saying that Harold was right or wrong, I’m just a different personality, and we’re going to have learn to get along with each other.”

Dalke is grateful for the professional management that City Administrator Larry Paine and others have brought to the mix. Under the previous model, each city council member was assigned to oversee one of the city departments.

“That worked, but it didn’t work,” Dalke said. “Each of the different people on the council had a different view, and then they would bring their own personal views to the council as far as what the pay scale should be and things like that.”

Another change Dalke initiated was the seating arrangement at council meetings. Previously, the mayor sat in the middle of the four council members, all facing the same direction.

“One of the things I found out in a big hurry, the two council members on either side would talk to each other, and not to talk to the group.

“That’s why we have a different seating arrangement now,” Dalke said. The mayor sits at one end of the table, and the council members sit around the table with plenty of face-to-face conversation.

Looking ahead

Having worked through some health issues in the past year or so, Dalke nears the completion of her service with no regrets.

“It’s been fun—I just can’t continue,” she said. “Based on my own personal health over the past couple of years, I just can’t continue.”

That doesn’t mean Dalke’s involvement with the city won’t surface in other ways.

“Of course, I want to be involved,” she said. “But I do not want to stand in the way of what the new mayor thinks needs to be done. I’m going to have to be a bit careful about that, but I can’t imagine I won’t get involved in something or another. I’m sure I will.”

As for advice for her successor, Dalke said, “There is no magic to it. You just go with it, you learn to listen to people and sometimes you have to say, ‘You’ve got a good point but it’s not going to work.’

“That’s hard to say to somebody when they are so passionate about what they really want.”