‘He gave it his whole heart’: Community advocate leaves impact on area residents

Published 7:54 pm Friday, June 9, 2023

Residents are remembering longtime Albert Lean Dave Mullenbach as a man always dedicated to the betterment of the community.

Mullenbach, 79, died at his home Monday after battling leukemia.

Residents say they will remember him for his kindness and willingness to help out where he could and his involvement in numerous efforts in the community.

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Longtime friend Barry Coughlin, who estimated he had known Mullenbach for probably 50 years, said they had lunch at least twice a week and sometimes would also get together on Sundays after church.

The two men became friends when their children were in sports and they knew some mutual friends. Over the years, they even vacationed together, including several fishing trips to Canada.

Coughlin said he will remember his friend as someone who was always involved and who would drop what he was doing to help others if they needed it.

“He was always there to lend a hand,” Coughlin said.

He said Mullenbach was knowledgeable about the happenings in the city and would try to keep others informed of what was taking place in the city and county.

He served as a Freeborn County commissioner from 1998 to 2006, three times as board chairman, and also served as a member of the Albert Lea Township Fire Department, serving as chief for 20 years. He was active in the Albert Lea Daybreakers Kiwanis Club and on numerous other boards.

“He always wanted to be up front and helping whatever chance he could get,” Coughlin said. “He was very helpful.”

Mullenbach served as American Legion Post 56 commander from 2009 to 2010 and was Legionnaire of the Year in 2012.

Coughlin said Mullenbach was a member of the Honor Guard and tried to participate in as many military funerals as he could.

“He was proud of the fact that he was able to serve our country and was very patriotic,” Coughlin said.

Some of his funnest memories with Mullenbach, however, were when Mullenbach would come over as Santa Claus to visit his grandchildren. Coughlin said Mullenbach enjoyed making the children happy.

“He’s touched a lot of us,” he said. “We’re going to miss a really good friend.”

Another one of Mullenbach’s passions was with the Freeborn County Historical Museum.

Museum Executive Director Stephanie Kibler said Mullenbach initially was an employee and did a lot of maintenance there before he turned into a volunteer. He became a board member in 2018 and was still serving on the board at the time of his death.

She said Mullenbach took it on himself to raise money to restore a 1932 Ford fire truck that was used at Wilson and Co. and later at Farmstead. The truck had been donated to the museum, and he raised funds and campaigned for people to restore it.

“That fire truck would not have been restored without him,” she said.

After the truck was restored, Mullenbach continued to be its keeper and made sure every year it was winterized. He enjoyed riding it in the Third of July Parade and taking it to classic car shows and in the holiday parade.

Aside from his work with the truck, Mullenbach had been given the title of honorary project manager when remaining brick needed to be put on the older part of the building, she said. He was there every day during that project and saw to it that it was done.

She was also impressed with his thoughtfulness as a board member and making sure the board members always had all of the information they needed to make a decision.

But she said it was his kindness and giving heart that sticks out.

“Dave never had a harsh word about anyone,” Kibler said. “Anything he did here, he always had a smile. He was jovial and friendly.

“The loss for this community is I think going to be felt for a long time. He was just a good man — a kind, good man. We have good people here every day, but his willingness to help, and wanting so much for this community to grow and be successful, he gave it his whole heart.”

A passion in his later years was with the Albert Lea Healthcare Coalition, serving as the trustee that oversaw the buildout of MercyOne Albert Lea Family Medicine & Specialty Care.

Brad Arends, another trustee, described Mullenbach as “second to none” and said he came to the site every day to check on the progress of the construction.

“It was unbelievable the amount of time he dedicated,” Arends said.

When the trustees had questions, Mullenbach would be the one to go and ask questions and he would report back.

From the beginning, even in the early days of the Save Our Hospital movement, Mullenbach was involved in securing the American Legion so residents had a place to meet every Sunday for an extended period of time and to make sure it was ready each week.

“He was a disciple of what we were doing there for the benefit of Albert Lea,” Arends said. “It was all about the community.”

Mullenbach helped organize meetings and was not afraid to provide his feedback.

Arends said while he knew who Mullenbach was before the two became trustees, he was proud to say that he and all of the other trustees became friends throughout the process.

They were saddened to hear how quickly his condition worsened.

“We knew that Dave had been diagnosed and that it was serious, but what was hard to comprehend was how fast it went,” Arends said.

Despite the sadness people are feeling with Mullenbach’s death, Arends said he is sure Mullenbach would want this time to be a celebration.

“Dave enjoyed life, and I think he had a really good life,” Arends said. “He wasn’t afraid to give back to his community.”


Click here for Mullenbach’s obituary.