Minnesota journalists lost a great friend this month.
Dave Aeikens, who served as MNSPJ chapter president in 1999 before taking leadership positions over the next decade with SPJ National, died on Wednesday, Nov. 24, at the age of 53.
At MNSPJ, we’d like to honor Dave’s memory by publishing this tribute from Art Hughes, a board member from 2001 to 2011. His words capture why so many of us have such respect and admiration for Dave.
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“Name an important issue related to journalism in Minnesota — defending attacks on the Data Practices Act, open meetings, public records access — and Dave Aeikens was there maintaining the vigil at key times. He was dedicated, energetic and relentless when it came to expanding the public’s right to know and understand how their government functions. One development he was particularly proud of was capping the amount government agencies can charge the public for documents they’re required to turn over. He led a reporting project, sought legal opinions, and then carried the flag to establish legislation to keep records accessible and affordable. And as you watch the Kim Potter and Derek Chauvin trials live on television, know that Dave had a hand in laying the foundation to make that happen these many years later.
“I can’t think of the Minnesota Pro Chapter without thinking of Dave. In addition to pursuing major initiatives, he prided himself on being among what he called the ’stamp lickers’ — those who organized panel discussions, judged awards, spoke to student groups and performed all the other mundane tasks that keep the organization running and connected to members who, as a general rule, are somewhat wary of joining groups. He came on the Minnesota board during a time when the state chapter was barely breathing, and helped re-energize it and expand it, a legacy that still reaps benefits. At the time he was a reporter at the St. Cloud Times and worked to grow the organization’s focus beyond the Twin Cities metro area and recruit interest from around the state. His rise through the ranks of SPJ improved the recognition and esteem of the state chapter on a national scale.
“I didn’t share Dave’s passion for sports, so our conversations were mainly about journalism and questionable food. I’m pretty sure the last time I saw him in person was over a steak sandwich at Scott Ja-Mama’s barbecue shack in south Minneapolis. Or it might have been enjoying a large pepperoni at Red’s Savoy pizza house in St. Paul. He loved to recount the time I called him after getting rounded up (‘arrested’ is too formal a word) by St. Paul police while covering protests outside the 2008 Republican National Convention. He was the first call I made after I was released. I wasn’t worried about myself, but the authorities hung onto my notes and tape recorder. He happened to be sitting next to the chair of the SPJ Legal Defense Fund. The two of them made some calls and within two hours I had my gear back. I didn’t even miss my deadline.
“I am grateful to have spent time with Dave. He was a friend and the quintessential good guy. We all owe him a debt of gratitude.”
–Art Hughes, Executive Producer for National Programs — Koahnic Broadcast Corp.
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Former MNSPJ president Sarah Bauer recalled how Dave channeled his fierce support for the First Amendment into his work at all levels with SPJ. She wrote: “I will always remember his passion for journalism, his commitment to bringing along / raising up the next generation of journalists and SPJ leaders, and for his sense of humor.”
Jonathan Kealing, who is another past-president, and current board member Fred Melo recalled Dave’s continuing support for SPJ and the profession, even after he left journalism. “He was also a valuable counselor and advisor to me in my time as MNSPJ president, and I know he was the same for many presidents before and after me,” Kealing wrote.
In a 2017 article for MNSPJ about his more than two decades in newsrooms, Dave wrote: “What I miss the most: The uncertainty and surprises that can happen every day. You just never knew what would happen from day to day, who you would meet and who might be on the other end of the phone.”
A celebration of life for Dave will be held at 11 a.m., Wednesday, Dec. 1, at Bierman Funeral Home, 1316 Division Street South, Northfield. Memorial gifts can be made to the Society of Professional Journalists, 3909 N. Meridian St., Suite 200, Indianapolis, IN 46208.