Newton leader dies at 70

By Adam Strunk

Mayor David Nygaard passed away at his home in Newton this week at age 70.

According to a friend, a neighbor requested a welfare check of Nygaard after not seeing him. Police went to the house in the 1200 Block of Grove on Tuesday afternoon and found Nygaard on the property, deceased.

Commissioners noticed the absence of Nygaard at the city commission work session and meeting that evening, but were not told of his passing until after the meeting, as law enforcement were working to notify Nygaard’s family. His family has been notified.

“We were all shocked to learn the news,” Commissioner Barth Hague said. “Every one of us was surprised and saddened to learn of Dave’s passing. I know that Dave suffered with a good bit of chronic pain. Despite that, it was very important for him to finish his public life as mayor. I think we were all hoping he would be able to serve out his year.”

Nygaard had a long career occupying leadership positions in Newton.

Nygaard served as mayor of Newton, board of education president, Rotary Club president, United Way of Harvey County president, and president of the Harvey County Historical Society.

He was a member of the American Legion, VFW, and Disabled American Veterans.

Nygaard worked as a U.S. Navy Master Chief, financial advisor and banker. He served in both the Vietnam and Gulf Wars.

He was preceded in death by his wife, LaVerna Nygaard, who he served as a caretaker for and was married to for 44 years.

Nygaard is survived by his daughters, Nichole Daniels of Topeka and Natalie Loerger of Manhattan.

Mayorship of the City of Newton is a primarily ceremonial title, meaning there are no state statutes governing what happens in the result of a mayor passing away.

City Public Information Officer Erin McDaniel said that traditionally the mayorship passes to the city’s vice mayor after a mayor’s term is completed.

“I would expect Kathy [Valentine] to be appointed mayor by fellow commissioners, and it will be up to the commission to decide who to appoint as vice mayor,” she said.

It would then be up to the commission to select a person to appoint to fill the empty position on the city commission.

McDaniel said the city had not had to select a replacement for a vacant seat since about 10 years ago, following a resignation.

She said, in that case, the commission took applications from the general public. She said, however, the commission could opt to take other actions, such as appointing the highest finisher in the recent city commission election to the commission.

She said that City Manager Bob Myers would likely inform commissioners of their options in coming weeks.