WASHINGTON — Washington Economic Development Group (WEDG) Executive Director David Collins has died.
Police found Collins dead in his Washington home after being requested to check on him just before noon on Wednesday. The medical examiner and Jones Eden Funeral Home responded, Chief Jim Lester said. No foul play is suspected.
Collins spent his last month traveling with friends and family, according to a press release from the Washington Chamber of Commerce.
Although he spent less than two years in Washington County, Collins was remembered Thursday by colleagues for his strong work ethic and gentle demeanor.
Collins had a natural gift of being a down-to-earth person who people were able to talk with. He had a passion for moving the city forward, Washington City Administrator Brent Hinson said.
WEDG struggled with funding for years, but Collins was able to garner support and boost the organization to a level where it could perform to the best of its ability for the county as a whole.
“It’s really disappointing and saddening to me that we’re not going to get a chance to see that success with him,” he said.
Collins attended the University of Nebraska working toward a degree in political science. Before moving to Washington in 2018, Collins worked at the Clear Lake Area Chamber of Commerce through 2006 before heading north to Park Rapids, Minn. where he was the executive director of the Hubbard County Regional Economic Development Commission.
Hinson was on the hiring committee when Collins first moved to Washington. Years prior, in 2005, Hinson worked as the city administrator in Garner, about 12 miles from Clear Lake.
Although the pair never worked together before then, Hinson said he knew of Collins and had heard nothing but good things.
“I just knew him by reputation, and his reputation was super in Clear Lake,” he said. “He was loved,”
Hinson said when Collins applied for the job in Washington, he was excited for the chance to work with him and bring him on board.
“We definitely found the right person. He just had such great experience and had that right approach to things that we were looking for,” he said.
Amanda Russell, human resources manager at Bazooka Farmstar, was also on the hiring committee. Russell is the president of the WEDG board and said Collins’s expertise and practiced skills were a big benefit for WEDG.
“The level of experience he brought and his networking skills were a huge asset to the community,” she said.
Specifically with her job at Bazooka Farmstar, Russell said he was well adept at ensuring existing business had the tools they needed to succeed.
“He did a great job of connecting with businesses that are current and making sure they were set up for success,” she said.
Washington Mayor Jaron Rosien said Collins personality and demeanor made him a personable man who could talk in both a professional and personal setting.
“David was great to talk to both professionally and personally. I typically avoid talking politics, but that was one area David and I enjoyed having reasonable discourse about,” he said. “We lost a real treasure.”
One of the major projects Collins assisted with was procuring the Whitesell building, on East Tyler Street, in Washington.
“That was some of his special skills at work there,” Hinson said.
Collins was able to have the property donated to the city of Washington for housing developments while procuring a new tenant for the building, Brava Roof Tile. The process was not only a plus for the city, but for the county’s economic development in the long run, Hinson said.
“Without somebody with his skills, it would have been a ton harder, if not impossible, to accomplish what we did there,” he said.
Russell said another of Collins’s passions was uniting the county as a whole to include the smaller towns within the community. Wellman City Administrator Kelly Litwiller was on the WEDG board with Collins and said his passion was plain to see.
“He had visions for the county, and he knew what he was looking for. When he said he was going to follow through, he did everything he could to get stuff done,” she said.
Litwiller said she worked with him on a number of projects including housing in Wellman. Not having him around to continue the work is a loss for the whole county, she said.
“He has been a great resource for the county in general. He’s going to be greatly missed.”
Rosien echoed Litwiller’s sentiments, saying his legacy will live on.
“David leaves big shoes to fill, but he was blazing a great path,” Rosien said.