Duane Kerik was like a lot of his friends and neighbours; there were things about local government he didn’t like and he wasn’t shy about saying so. Unlike most of them, however, he stepped up and did something about it.
As the story goes (told to us last week by his son Murray, the current M.D. of Lesser Slave River reeve), Duane wasn’t actually looking to get into a leadership role in the municipality (or Improvement District, as it then was). But he wasn’t happy about how money was being spent “on services we didn’t need.”
That’s how he got involved.
“He was ranting about it, and the neighbours said: ‘If you don’t like it, why don’t you run?’”
So he did.
Kerik passed away on July 4, 2022 at the age of 86, about four weeks after his wife of many years Arlene had passed away. They are survived by three children, five grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.
Last week we called around to a few former colleagues in municipal government and administration and asked what kind of a guy he was to work with or for. Or grow up with, in one case.
“Brutally honest!” says Murray, when asked what Duane was like. “You might not want to hear it, but he’d tell you anyway.”
Murray says, “I got to listen to him all the time, so it made it a lot easier for me when I stepped in.”
Duane served three terms on council. His first was under reeve Ed Yoder, when the M.D. was still the I.D. Then he was reeve for two terms, and oversaw the transition to Municipal District status – a big change for the region.
“He was fantastic,” says Pat Vincent, who was the I.D. manager at the time leading up to the transition. “Salt of the earth. Common sense, down to earth.”
Mary Kupsch was a council colleague.
“You couldn’t get a guy that was better to work with than Duane,” she says. “He was always fair, supportive. Getting the town and M.D. to work together – he was very good at it.”
Duane was born in 1935 on the family farm in the Cross Lake area, east of Flatbush, the fourth of seven boys born to Jack and Betty Kerik. He got on at a fairly young age with Fish & Wildlife. He worked on a program of live-trapping beaver in southern Alberta and relocating them north – the area having been depleted after many decades of intensive trapping.
From there, Duane went into the enforcement side of things for Fish & Wildlife, eventually serving for 19 years. He left that job to do something that paid better, Murray says, taking a job as a hand-faller for Canfor in (or near) Grande Prairie, but he seemed destined for bigger things.
“In his third year he was woodlands supervisor,” Murray says.
In 1978, Duane came back to the Flatbush area to farm and log with his brothers Jim and Gordon. In 1986, “he talked me into trying it (farming) for three years,” Murray says. “I’m going to have to make up my mind pretty soon!”
Former M.D. employees Kelly Adelman and Wanda Sinclair sent a joint email to The Leader with the following:
“He was wonderful,” they said. “He kept things simple. Loved by all.” They recall Duane was affectionately known as ‘Bucky Two Feathers.’
Vincent recalls being at a strategic planning retreat where a lot of cribbage was played in the off hours. He says he (Vincent) came out with the adage, ‘Play the jacks last.’
“Duane just loved that,” he says. When Vincent resigned from the municipality, he was presented with a crib board, with those words inscribed on it.
Former M.D. CAO Jack Ramme, reached last week on a camping trip in B.C., said Duane was “without a doubt the nicest man I had ever worked with.”
Otherwise, Ramme remembers Duane’s homespun humour.
“He always had some corny farm type of saying that always made us laugh. He always had great stories.”
And this: “I gave him some of my suit jackets and he kept feeding me doughnuts, because he wanted more!”
A tribute to Duane Kerik written by current M.D. councillor Lana Spencer (and read by councillor Norm Seatter) at council’s July 13 meeting said: “He was leader and a mentor. He helped build the foundation for present and past administrations, councils and reeves after him. He led and directed by providing a strong family and community backbone’ making the MD what it is today. It is an honour to be here and be a part of what he helped create.”