Friends and colleagues Tuesday fondly remembered former Homer City Council member Dennis Novak.
Novak, 71, was found dead Monday afternoon in a well near his home and business, the Bay View Inn on the Sterling Highway.
“The city of Homer is shocked and deeply saddened by the loss of Councilman Novak,” said Homer City Manager Walt Wrede. “He gave a lot of his time and his heart to the city of Homer. He was a friend to all of us. He is truly going to be missed.”
A Homer Volunteer Fire Department rescue crew on Monday recovered the body of Novak, a two-term former council member. About 1:50 p.m. Monday, a neighbor reported to Homer Police that he found Novak apparently dead at the bottom of a 12-foot deep well near Novak’s home by his business off the highway just below the Baycrest Hill turnout.
Novak’s body was in several feet of water at the bottom of an 8-foot wide corrugated steel culvert lining the well. A lid on the well had been removed and was nearby, said Homer Police Lt. Randy Rosencrans. Police saw no signs of foul play or apparent injuries, he said.
The cause of Novak’s death remains unknown. Firefighter rescuers removed his body and took it to the South Peninsula Hospital mortuary. Novak will be transported to the Alaska Medical Examiner’s office in Anchorage for an autopsy.
Next of kin has been notified. Mayor James Hornaday, city council members and city officials were told of Novak’s death on Tuesday.
A retired high school teacher, Novak, 71, moved to Homer in 1982 and had owned the Bay View Inn since 1985. He graduated in 1958 from Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, Iowa — the same school as Mayor James Hornaday, who was a year ahead.
“He was a real asset to his community,” Hornaday said. “He cared about his community and had a lot of friends. It’s a sad day.”
Novak was first elected to the Homer City Council in 2003, finishing first of four candidates for two seats. He ran for mayor in 2004 and lost to Mayor James Hornaday. Novak was re-elected to the council in 2006, and selected to be mayor pro tempore. He ran on a campaign of openness in government and advocated striking a balance between growth and the environment.
“I am committed to the tried-and-true public processes that give us the quality of life we value, a quality of life that preserves the fundamental values of a rural lifestyle with 21st century amenities,” Novak said in his 2006 campaign essay for the Homer News.
Novak helped write the city’s Climate Action Plan and served on the council during contentious debates over setting a cap on the size of large-retail stores and building a new city hall in the Town Center. Besides his city council tenure, he also served as president and on the board of directors of the Homer Chamber of Commerce, on the chamber tourism committee and as chairman of the Kachemak Bay State Park Citizens Advisory Board.
A frequent political opponent of Novak, former council member Mike Heimbuch praised his service. When Novak retired from the council at the end of his term in 2009, Heimbuch made a point of thanking him for his work.
“He was a great warrior and gracious, fun to do battle with,” Heimbuch said. “He was a great guy at the end of the day.”
Novak wasn’t afraid to win or lose in a political debate, Heimbuch said.
“He tried to twist things and get things done for what he thought was right,” Heimbuch said. “He really believed that it was healthy for people to lose battles in wars sometimes. I think that’s an unsung strength about the democratic process.”
No funeral arrangements have been announced yet for Novak. Wrede said Novak will be honored at Monday’s Homer City Council meeting, starting at 6 p.m. in the Cowles Council Chambers, City Hall.
“He was absolutely a good guy — fair, honest, community minded,” Wrede said of Novak. “He cared about the community. That’s all you can ask.”
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