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Dave Carey makes Soldotna his top priority

Man about town

Posted: Sunday, December 02, 2001

The mayor of Soldotna coaches wrestling.

The government teacher at Skyview High School once ran for state Senate and then attended seminary.

One of the board members of Homer Electric Association is trying to paint Soldotna in patriotic splendor, and somebody keeps giving goodies to city employees, high school students and city council members.

This may sound like the doings of several different people, but all these things apply to just one man: Dave Carey.

Soldotna's mayor and patriotic crusader, Carey wears many hats as he traverses each day through Soldotna, but he said all of his efforts -- from giving out candy to leaving friendly notes on city paychecks -- are in the name of service.

"Hospitality is the No. 1 virtue of community," he said.

This is a lesson he said he learned from Benedictine monks during a short-lived tenure studying to become a priest in Oregon.

"I believe all life is a gift," Carey said, "Being willing to serve, whether it's as a teacher, whether it's as a coach or HEA or whatever, gives me a chance that when I have an idea, I can put it into place."

He put one of his ideas into place following the tragedies of Sept. 11, when many people were in need of a symbol of unity and solidarity.

"I thought we should paint the fire hydrants red, white and blue to honor those people who were killed in the attacks on America and to honor our emergency workers here in Soldotna," Carey said.

City Manager Tom Boedeker said Carey's plan worked on a far larger scale than expected, although there were initial doubts.

"When he came with the idea to paint the fire hydrants, I told the staff to work with him," Boedeker said. "There were some misgivings at first. But, we saved money over hiring contractors to do it. We saved between $5,000 and $10,000. That wasn't his intention, but it was an extra, added benefit."

At the recent Kenai Peninsula Borough Economic Development Forum, Carey unveiled his patriotic vision for Soldotna.

"I would like to see Soldotna as a patriotic paradise on the Kenai Peninsula," he said. "I see Soldotna as being possibly the most patriotic city in the country."

Carey announced his desire to name the new bridge to be built over the Kenai River on the Sterling Highway after David Douthit, the only Alaska serviceman killed in duty during Desert Storm in 1991. He also informed the audience of plans to decorate Parker Park with the theme of national allegiance and of work under way to bring the 2006 Arctic Winter Games to the city -- all with the idea of paying homage to the United States.

But Carey is aware that his is not the only voice offering directions in the community, and he points to where he began to realize this fact.

"Mine is just one idea," he said. "I used to think that I was right. Today, I am extremely comfortable that I am just one of a range of ideas. That's one of the changes of the monastery."

 

Student art blankets the walls of Carey's classroom as he discusses civil liberties.

Photo by M. SCOTT MOON

Carey went to Mount Angel Seminary in St. Benedict, Ore., after receiving what he felt was a calling to become a priest. After an unsuccessful bid for a state Senate seat just a year earlier in 1988, he knew that change was needed.

Before this, however, Carey had experienced a long string of successes. Only the loss of his father, David W. Carey Jr., in 1956 stood out as a sad point in the early portion of Carey's life. The elder Carey had been a Navy pilot flying a mission as a part of Operation Deep Freeze, a multinational exploratory exhibition of Antarctica. He was flying cargo from New Zealand when his plane crashed.

The younger Carey was only 4 at the time. His mother eventually remarried and the family moved, finally settling in Soldotna in 1961.

Graduating from Kenai Central High School in 1970, he lettered in wrestling and was named Outstanding Teen-ager of Alaska.

Carey's younger sister, Vikki Leach, of Soldotna, said his habits growing up played a big part in his academic success at a young age, as well as his effectiveness in the classroom.

"He was a nerd," Leach said. "One summer, he got all of these different maps and wrote to all of the embassies around the world. "

She said she and Carey's three other siblings thought his actions were weird, but they had their benefits.

"He was always getting mail and we weren't," she said. "David used to read the encyclopedia all the time. I'm sure he read 1 through 22. He's always had such a thirst for knowledge. I think it's helped form him into the teacher he is."

He attended Gonzaga University in Washington, where he was recognized as a top military science student and graduated with honors in political science. He continued at Gonzaga to compete a master's degree in education and was twice elected student body president and honored with the Gonzaga Excellence Award for being a top student.

Carey was a special services teacher for the gifted and talented, as well as the head wrestling coach when Soldotna High School opened in 1980. He was elected to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly for three terms from 1982 to 1989 and elected president of the HEA board of directors in 1989.

After years of success, Carey found an obstacle he could not overcome in 1988. He ran for state Senate and lost to Paul Fischer, who today sits on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly.

"It was real tough for me," he said. "People told me, 'You're too morally good to go to Juneau.'"

That's when Carey followed his heart to Mount Angel. But after only one year, he began to receive signs that maybe he was needed elsewhere.

"Basically, I got real sick," he said. "I started having heart problems. To me that was a real clear indication from God that I was not supposed to stay there for five more years of study. So I came back."

He picked up where he left off -- this time at newly-opened Skyview High School -- teaching government, psychology and U.S. history and becoming assistant wrestling coach. He began teaching political science and history at Kenai Peninsula College in the spring. He ran for a Soldotna City Council seat in 1999 and won by one vote, and when then-mayor Ken Lancaster resigned from his office after being elected to the Legislature, Carey ran for and won the mayor's position.

And his success was joined with joy.

"The monastery experience was very helpful," he said. "It straightened out a lot of clutter. I am the most content in this last 11 years than I've ever been."

 

Carey, at top right, leads members of Skyview's wrestling teams through a set of "finger push-ups" for good luck before a round of state championship wrestling last year.

Photo by M. SCOTT MOON

Carey's enthusiasm has shown, as those who come into contact with him reap the benefits of his hospitality.

"One area he's very good at is with (city) employees," Boedeker said. "He comes through and visits them to see what the employees deal with. He goes and thanks them for doing a great job. He gets to know them. He tries to get to every location about once a week. That has a very positive effect on city morale."

Many city employees expressed appreciation for what Carey does to improve their workdays.

"I've worked here for nine years and I can't remember a mayor being so nice," said Sandy Kass, a finance and public works clerk. "When you have someone that gives you a positive attitude, of course work is better."

Kass said Carey gave her and several clerks in city hall amaryllis plants.

"He's a great mayor," she said.

Anna Johnson, the city planning and zoning administrator, is pleased with his extra contributions to city meetings and to city hall.

"At every one of the planning and zoning committee meetings, he always brings snacks -- coffee cakes, bagels, candy, etc.," she said. "If anything, he'll have us all here at city hall spoiled or fat. He really does love Soldotna, and he really wants to see the city and the staff do well."

City Maintenance Manager Don Deitz said Carey has made a significant impression since he took office in April.

He recalled a time when school had begun and the roles of city official and teacher started to cross. Deitz said Carey attempted to fit a visit to the maintenance shop into his schedule by coming before school, with humorous results.

"Evidently, he wasn't aware of our hours," Deitz said. "He came here at 7:15, but we didn't open until 8:30."

Deitz said people appreciate Carey's commitment to the city, but understand he has numerous other commitments, as well.

"We don't want him to forsake his own responsibilities," Deitz said.

Boedeker said Carey's zeal to do good for the city was similar to that of other officials he has worked with.

"Like all mayors, sometimes he gets ahead of the council," Boedeker said. "But he works very well with me. He comes and talks to me and lets me know about his ideas."

Carey said that teaching is his true calling. His determination to see his students learn and grow into citizens is reflected in their opinions of him and their aspirations for the future.

"The way he teaches is kind of fun because everybody gets involved in class," said Skyview senior Tony Lewis.

 

A poster from Carey's freshman year pictures him (at above left) ready to grapple at 103 pounds.

Photo by M. SCOTT MOON

"He's made it so we can get involved in local government," said senior Laura Tarbox.

Boedeker said one of Carey's major concerns is getting everybody involved in city functions. Carey began getting students involved in city government by having selected students sit on different city commissions, boards and advisory groups.

"We have a lot of people between 18 and 35 who don't participate," Boedeker said. "They don't really tend to come out to things, and that's something we want to change. We can get them involved and let them know they have a roll and a voice."

His students said they respect his ingenuity and his respect for them.

"He's probably the smartest guy I've ever met," said senior Arthur Hedberg. "He always thinks your opinion is valid. He gets you to check your thinking."

"He addresses your opinion and shows you the other side of the story," Tarbox said.

After the incidents of Sept. 11, Tarbox said Carey was instrumental in shaping her class' perspective of what to make of it all.

"He kept us informed, but not scared," she said.

Before a test, Carey gave his students the opportunity to remove any fears from their minds.

"He allows you to unwind," Lewis said of Carey's method of playing music during a brief writing assignment students usually complete before their weekly test. "He lets you relax."

Tarbox said the writing assignment helps her.

"It's nice to do before a test because you're so stressed," she said.

Tarbox said she feels more closely related to the city, knowing she can be involved.

"I like knowing that you can be in government just by going to meetings," she said. "I will continue to get involved like that when I'm older."

Lewis said Carey has inspired him to consider a more active role in governmental activities.

"From his class, I can see myself getting into a political career," he said.

Carey is also a mainstay for his family. His 75-year-old mother, Norma Carey, lives on the same street as him, and his sister said he gives her the first part of every day.

 

Soldotna Mayor Dave Carey discusses a memo with city clerk Patricia Burdick.

Photo by M. SCOTT MOON

"He has for years taken care of our mother," Leach said. "He goes and visits every morning. To me, I think that's pretty terrific. That makes it really nice for her because she's getting up there."

Leach said Carey has always helped her with her children, as well, when her husband, Darryl, was away for two weeks at a time working for British Petroleum.

"He comes by and keeps my teen-age boys in line," she said.

He also helped Autumn Leach, Vikki's daughter, prepare for and pass the LSAT, the law school entrance exam. She passed it and is now in school at Thomas Jefferson School of Law School in San Diego.

Neldon Gardner, the head wrestling coach at Skyview, said Carey is the motivator for the team.

"He focuses on fun," Gardner said. "He has set a tradition since we opened Skyview. He has lucky Jujubes he gives them. One to win, and one to pin."

Gardner also said Carey's generosity to the team is exceptional.

"He's a good all-around guy and has good morals," Gardner said. "He donates his coach's stipend back to the team. He buys juices or sodas after matches and pays for team hotel rooms when we travel."

Carey said this same practice is true with all his additional responsibilities. He said is personal philosophy of life being a gift guides his desire to live without savings or keeping any more than he earns from his primary duty.

"My belief is that I should be able to live off of my teaching salary," he said. "In my personal life, I try to give back what is given to me. My salary as a mayor goes back to the city. With the money I make at the college, I buy pizzas for my students in each class."

As far as what other people say about Carey, so far, there have been no complaints. Dee Gaddis is a Soldotna resident with two sons who have been influenced by "Mr. Carey," the teacher, and "Coach Carey," the wrestling trainer. She said she is pleased with all Carey has done at the school and through city hall.

"He does a whole, whole lot," she said. "He has excellent ideas, and he follows through. I've never known him to let people down."

Carey wears a Jerusalem Cross around his neck everyday. The amulet was the official symbol of Christianity during the first four centuries of Christian doctrine. He said it was given to him at Mount Angel and he wears it always.

"It is to remind me of the kind of person I wish to be," he said. "It's difficult to try to be a good person, but this helps me."

Juggling many roles as Carey does could result in disaster, but he said he is comfortable with where he is and how he is doing.

"Everyday I try to look at the balance of how I am doing, he said. "Finding the balance has to be a personal decision. I start every day with prayer, and I end every day with prayer," Carey said. "Part of prayer to is me asking, 'How have I done today?'"

Carey said he places a lot of weight on what answers return from these prayers.

"If, when I reach a point where people can say, 'You're doing a bad job,' I'll stop doing whatever I'm doing badly," he said. "If I found that I couldn't be mayor and also teach, I'd have to make a decision."

Carey said people know when they are doing well or not.

"I have internal, organismic integrity that I'm doing well," he said. "I'm also aware that I have never been happier."



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