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Passing of police chief leaves void in Olivia's community


OLIVIA -- Residents in Olivia are mourning the unexpected death of their longtime police chief after a mishap outside of his home.

Police Chief Don Davern, 54, died Sunday at the Hennepin County Medical Center. He had apparently slipped on ice Saturday and struck his head just outside of his home on the western edge of Olivia.

He was discovered at 5:42 p.m. Saturday by Assistant Chief Nyla Negen, who had gone to his home after being unable to reach him by phone.

It is believed that he may have been outside and unconscious for four or five hours before being discovered. He was transported to Renville County Hospital and airlifted to HCMC.

Those who knew the chief said they remember him most of all for his professionalism, but also as someone who devoted himself to whatever pursuit he took on.

"Very fair, very caring, very thorough and very diligent,'' said Quentin Rath, a probation officer in Renville County and a longtime friend and collegue.

Davern had been police chief in Olivia since 1991, and his entire 34 years in law enforcement has been focused on Olivia and Renville County. A native of Duluth, he began his law enforcement service in 1975 as a patrol officer with the Olivia department. He served as assistant chief from 1977 through 1987, and he served one term as sheriff in Renville County from 1987 to February 1991.

He returned to the Olivia Police Department as an assistant chief and soon became chief.

"He ran a good ship,'' said Mayor Bill Miller of Olivia, who had last seen the chief when they ran into each other downtown while running errands late Saturday morning.

There is typically a lot of turnover in small-town police positions, and the chief stood out for his many years of service to Olivia, friends said.

He led by example and commanded the respect of his fellow officers, said Police Officer Michelle Jensen. She noted that the force includes four officers with more than 20, 13, 12 and six years of service respectively as members.

Officer Jensen said that the longevity speaks volumes about how highly the officers regarded the chief.

His sudden death has hit the force hard, especially since local officers were the first on the scene to aid the injured chief, she said.

"He knew his community. He knew the people he was serving,'' said Spencer Kvam, a longtime friend of Davern who now practices law in Granite Falls but previously served as Olivia city attorney.

Kvam said Davern always put his responsibility to uphold the law first, and never carried over his work into personal relationships. He might write you up for speeding, said Kvam, but would not hesitate to buy you coffee later at the local café.

He wasn't critical of people,'' said Kathy Herdina, an Olivia city employee who has worked alongside him.

Friends said Davern put in long, hard hours as a police officer, many of them unseen by the public.

His role as chief acquainted him with many personal tragedies, and he always did all that he could to help those in need, Rath said

He pointed to the tragic drowning deaths in April 2001 of two cousins, ages 8 and 5, as among the most difficult that Davern experienced. A five-week search was conducted before the boys' bodies were recovered. Davern devoted many off-duty hours to the search and would not quit until the families could have closure, Rath said.

Kvam and Rath were among his friends who also shared the chief's passion for fishing, and beginning in 1984, accompanied him on one-week, fly-in fishing trips in Ontario, Canada.

Davern organized the trips, and was always the first one up to start the coffee and breakfast, and always the last to put down the fishing rod and call it a day. Kvam said they recently had been talking about taking in an outdoor show and planning another fly-in trip.

Now, he expects that Davern's friends will make that trip in his memory instead.

The service for Don Davern will be at 1:30 p.m. Friday at Cross of Calvary Lutheran Church, 1103 Chestnut Ave. W., Olivia.