Ames Mayor Richard Wilday died unexpectedly Friday after just 19 days in office.
The 69-year-old longtime village resident was sworn in as mayor April 1. According to his daughter Melanie, he died of blood clots in his lungs. “Unfortunately the doctors thought it was pneumonia or bronchitis,” she said Monday.
Wilday passed out Friday and was taken to Cobleskill Regional Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Aside from the recent illness, Wilday had been in excellent health. Village Trustee Michael McMahon, a neighbor of Wilday’s, described him as an individual of natural strength.
“He was a hay farmer,” he said. “He could throw a bale like a young man. He wasn’t a guy you expect to die on you.”
In recent years McMahon spent a lot of time with Wilday, discussing village business over yard work and trips to the mailbox. He and Village Clerk Katie Bottger said the late mayor was a community-minded man.
“He served on the Ames Volunteer Fire Department for 45 years,” Bottger said, pointing out that while he wasn’t actively running into burning buildings at almost 70 years old, he helped with pancake breakfasts and other firehouse events.
The Fire Department plans to award Wilday a pin for his years of service, placing it on his lapel during the wake.
While Ames residents remember the man as a community pillar, Melanie Wilday talked mostly of her father’s love of farming.
“When he was farming,” she said, “that’s all he had time for.”
She recalled an evening on the family dairy farm when she was just entering high school. She was buried in homework when Wilday came in from the barn.
“He said, ‘I’m running behind, can you milk the cows? Just for tonight,’ ” she said, laughing. “That one night turned into my job for the next four years.”
Wilday operated the dairy farm for 30 years, eventually selling it and moving into Ames in the mid-1990s.
“But he still loved his farming,” she said. “Even after the move he kept his hay business.”
Though he also worked at the town of Seward Highway Department, giving up the dairy industry left Wilday time for local government, a job at which Bottger said he excelled.
After several years as trustee, Wilday ran this winter against Donald Krutz for mayor, creating more than the usual competition at the polls. In fact, all 59 votes were very nearly tossed out and a new election scheduled after several errors were found on the ballots. Among other things, there were no lines for write-in candidates.
However, he won by a large enough majority to keep the seat.
Now, with the contested office again open, the government of the small village is still discussing a way forward. Either McMahon or the other trustee, Martin Wilcox, will likely step into the position until the end of the year.
As senior trustee, McMahon is positioned to take the seat, though he pointed out Wilcox previously served as mayor and has more experience.
“We’ll probably wait until after the funeral to make any decisions,” he said, pointing out the village’s most pressing business was handled by Wilday in his 19 days as mayor.
“We only had him for a few weeks,” Bottger said, “but he already was a great mayor in my book.”
In two weeks he closed out the fiscal year, updated all the village contracts and dealt with the fallout of the botched election.
“He did all the heavy lifting,” she said. “Whoever takes over will have an easy time for the rest of the year.”
Wilday is survived by his wife of nearly 50 years, Kay; three daughters, Amy and Melanie Wilday and Stephanie Palmatier; and his son, Rick Wilday.
A service will be held at 7 this evening at Lappeus Funeral Home in Sharon Springs. Visitation will be from 5 to 7 p.m. prior to the service.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Ames Volunteer Fire Department.