Long-time clerk retires

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 20, 2001

ELKTON -Dave Weness will be 101-years-old if he lasts as long as David N.

Wednesday, June 20, 2001

ELKTON -Dave Weness will be 101-years-old if he lasts as long as David N. Gilderhus did as the Clayton Township clerk.

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Weness, who has replaced Gilderhus as the township clerk, cannot, of course, accomplish that feat.

The Clayton Township Board is a study in longevity. Talk about surviving and mention Gilderhus, who served 45 years as the township clerk before retiring.

Jesse Ronne, a township supervisor, has served 42 years and Keith Voorhees, the board chairman, has served 36 years.

Wayne Johnson, the township’s treasurer, has served 23 years, and Mort Kellogg, a township supervisor, has served 21 years.

At the last state convention of Minnesota townships, Clayton Township was honored for its board’s record of longevity.

At the time with Gilderhus still on the board as township clerk, Clayton Township’s officials boasted an incredible combined total of 167 years of public service.

Now they have lost their senior most member to retirement.

He replaced Anna Johnson, over four decades ago, when he was appointed to fill the vacancy after her death. "Nobody else would take the job."

Clayton Township is among the bottom 10 townships in Mower County. Gilderhus lives only two miles away from the new township hall built in 1976.

"The biggest change in my time on the board was the population of the township," Gilderhus said. "When I came on the board in 1956, we had between 350 and 380 people in the township. Now according to the latest census, there are only 178."

Gilderhus is a firm believer in the township form of government. "This is where government began when we became a country. This is democracy at its finest," he said.

Gilderhus was appointed to the state township organization’s resolutions committee and one of his proudest accomplishments occurred when the committee convinced the Minnesota Legislature to pass a bill that was signed into law giving townships a share of the cigarette tax monies as well as revenues from the highway tax.

He served six years as the state association’s secretary and was there when the state association was formed. "Only 32 counties had organized township associations back then," Gilderhus said. "We hired an executive secretary to help organize all the counties to form their own township associations until we had 86 of Minnesota’s 87 counties represented by our state organization."

That has become critical for supporters of the township form of government, because of the repeated attempts by various state legislators to banish the state’s townships in an effort to make government more efficient.

"There’s no question we needed to organize, because of all the people who want to do away with the township form of government," he said.

Gilderhus, who observed his 50th wedding anniversary this spring with wife, LaVonne, has the respect and admiration of his peers.

"He’s smart, he speaks out and he’s a good people person," said Voorhees, township board chair. "He has always wanted what was best for the township."

"He’s a people-person," said Johnson, a township supervisor, "He makes everyone feel welcome at meetings."

Gilderhus has held the chairman’s post on the Freeborn-Mower Cooperative Services board of directors for four years.

He is not leaving the FMCS post; only the Clayton Township clerk’s job. "It’s time," he said. "We’ve got a good man, Dave Weness, to replace me and he’ll do a good job and bring ideas to the board, too. It’s just time that I step aside."

Clayton Township is the only township in Minnesota to hold a picnic for its residents each year and that’s what happened Monday night before a large crowd.

Gilderhus received a plaque as a token of the township board’s appreciation and his wife, LaVonne, accepted a plant.

Everywhere one went, there was a Gilderhus story to be told.

When Mower County grappled with a feedlot ordinance in the late-1990s, Gilderhus’ opinion was heard at several public meetings.

Strong-willed and able to negotiate differences are traits attributed to Gilderhus by the township’s residents. Also, a sense of humor and a keen memory.

"In 1956, when I came on the board, we wrote maybe 40 to 50 checks a year," he said. "Now, it’s 175 to 180 checks a year.

"Our budget was less than $10,000 in those days and today its between $65,000 and $70,000," he said.

"We got $4 a meeting in those days and now we get $45 a meeting," he said.

"But," he added for emphasis, "every dollar that the board spends we have to justify at the annual meeting. Every dollar. There’s no more accountability in government than there is at the township level."

Call Lee Bonorden at 434-2232 or e-mail him at lee.bonorden@austindailyherald.com.