Hillsboro mourns the death of former mayor

Delores Dalke was mayor for 27 years. She holds the titles for only female mayor of Hillsboro and Hillsboro’s oldest mayor.

The Hillsboro community recently mourned the loss of former Mayor Delores Dalke and many showed up to pay their respects at the heavily attended funeral at Ebenfeld Mennonite Church last week. Dalke died on May 12, at the age of 82, on what would have been her 61st Wedding Anniversary to her deceased husband John Foster Dalke. She served Hillsboro as the oldest and only female mayor for 27 years before leaving the position in January of 2018. Between her role as mayor and her service on many boards and commissions, Dalke contributed much to making Hillsboro what it is today.

Son Matt, who spoke at her funeral, believed that his mother was an extremely special person.

He said, “She always made sure that she went out of her way to help others. She was a mom to all of her children’s friends. She believed in developing relationships and strived to help those in need. So many have reached out to me since my mom became ill to tell me how she helped them with financial assistance and/or emotional support or when they were in dire straits. Many of these people I have never met, but Mom made a huge difference in their lives and they are forever grateful. I feel that is a true testament to the person she was.”

Early years

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 in a Dec. 2017 article in the Free Press. “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.

Dalke went on to attend both Friends University and Tabor College where she studied for a math degree. She did not end up completing her degree but used what she had studied to be an accountant and for other jobs throughout her career.

She married John Foster Dalke on May 12, 1962, and they settled into Hillsboro where they raised their three children John, Mark and Matt.

After taking a few years off to raise her children, 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.

Public service

Before Dalke was mayor, she served the Hillsboro community in many different roles. She started out serving on several local boards and commissions which stirred her interest in city government. She served on the Planning and Zoning Board, Recreation Commission and the Housing Authority.

Dalke served as president of the Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce and sat on the Hillsboro City Council. She was also a founding member of the Hillsboro Community Foundation which was started in 1986.

She decided to run as mayor in the early nineties and served in that position until deciding to be done with public service. Current Mayor Lou Thurston took over the position in January 2018.

“Delores Dalke set an extremely high bar for any Mayor following in her footsteps. After only six years as Mayor, I realize what a commitment she made to Hillsboro, serving as our Mayor for 27 years,” said Thurston.

Dalke was proud of the fact that she was Hillsboro’s first female mayor.

In the Dec. 2017 Free Press article, 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.”


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

In the Free Press Dec. 2017 article, Dalke looked back with satisfaction on a list of significant projects that the city government achieved under her direction.

• The Hillsboro Heights commercial development was 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.”

• 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. We had all the new light posts put in, and all of those kind of things.”

• Rebuilding the truck route on Ash Street.

That was done with a grant from the state because it was considered part of the truck route.

• 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. At 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.

• Recreational facilities.

“We had the sports complex completely 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 most significant project for Dalke was 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.

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.

The company’s promise was finally fulfilled in April of 2017 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 at the time. “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.”

Thurston said, “Delores left a legacy of service for all of us in Hillsboro to be proud of and aspire to. There are many, many things you can point to that carry her fingerprints; our wonderful hospital, our Family Aquatic Center and our state-of-the-art Water Treatment Center. The one I have come to appreciate most, I think, is the professional organization that she put in place to run our City. When she hired City Administrator Larry Paine, she set us on a course of professional and efficient city government. This is what I inherited from Delores and I will be ever thankful to her for it. Hillsboro has lost a tireless champion in Delores, but her good works, service and legacy will live on well into the future.”

Former City Administrator Larry Paine said, “She gave a lot to this community. She was a wonderful person to work for. She was able to give me guidance but did not have to be super critical about how to do it. So it was basically, ‘Larry, this is what I want to get done’, and my job was to say, ‘yes, ma’am. We’ll get it that way’. It’s a lot of stuff we got done.

Life after being mayor

Dalke quit being mayor partly due to ongoing health issues that she was facing, but she continued to stay involved with the city as well as run her real estate business. She also spent time with her husband, children and grandchildren. Dalke endured some loss as well as both husband and son John passed away in recent years.

Matt Dalke said, “Mom was very busy since her time as mayor had ended. When her husband John became ill, she gave everything she had to help him. She was completely committed to her husband.” After her husband died, Dalke’s sons tried to get her to slow down and retire, but she would have none of that.

“She loved to go to work and took great pride in her ability to do so. She especially enjoyed all the people who would come into her office just to chat. She also never missed any activity that her grandchildren were involved in. She was so proud of them and all their accomplishments,” said Matt Dalke. “She loved to cook and share meals with others. She was so happy to see others at her table enjoying one of her amazing meals. Holidays were especially important to Mom. Her house was filled to the brim with family and those who did not have a place to be. Everyone left with full stomachs and hearts.”

Dalke’s children appreciated being raised by their mom.

Son Mark said, “I wish every kid had a mom like Delores growing up. She was an amazing woman. She will be missed by all of us.”

Matt Dalke added, “Mom was a true public servant. So much of what she did never went public and we will never know just how many people’s lives she touched. She saw the good in people even if they did not see the good in themselves. She always believed that everyone had potential and did whatever she could to help people succeed and overcome difficulties.”

More from Laura Fowler Paulus
Hillsboro votes to allow chickens
In the March 21 Hillsboro City Council meeting, the council heard from...
Read More