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Update: Independence officials remember former mayor

Mike Genet
mike.genet@examiner.net
The City Hall office of Independence Mayor Don Reimal is adorned with Truman memorabilia. Reimal is retiring after eight years as mayor and, before that, 12 years as a City Council member. | Jeff Fox/The Examiner

Though a member of the Independence City Council for 20 years, including the last eight as mayor, Don Reimal did not consider himself to be a politician.

“Don was more of a statesmen,” says fellow former Council Member Jim Schultz. “He considered himself a public servant.”

Reimal, who was mayor from 2006 to 2014 and had been on the council for 12 years before that, died Wednesday at the age of 78. He had battled illness in recent years.

While the illness limited his ability to communicate, he still made occasional appearances in the city, and current Mayor Eileen Weir said his mind was “always sharp.”

“He just had an empathy and consideration for the people of Independence, especially those who had challenges,” Weir said. “That’s what he cared about, and preserving the city’s history. Those were the things that impacted me.”

Schultz, who served on the council for 12 years, remembers Reimal as a “man of integrity.”

“At the end of the day,” Schultz said, “he always voted what he felt was right, whether you agreed with him or not, and he never asked me to vote a certain way.

“He was a man of great faith, and that entered into how he voted sometimes, which to me was admirable. He had a real heart for citizens’ concerns; he never tried to separate being mayor from hearing the people.”

“When he was district council person, he went to all the meetings and engaged with the people,” Weir said. “He had incredible economic development projects.”

Chief among those, Weir said, were reviving the Square, including the city’s role in preserving the Historic Truman Courthouse, Centerpoint Medical Center’s construction and the Independence Events Center (now named Cable Dahmer Arena), an arena that meant minor league hockey coming to Independence.

But the biggest highlight of Reimal’s tenure, he and Weir agreed, was helping guide the school boundary change of 2008, leading to several schools in the city’s west side moving from the long-struggling Kansas City School District to the Independence School District.

A graduate of Van Horn High School and a commercial carpenter by trade, Reimal first joined the council in 1994 when he won a special election to represent the First District after Ron Stewart was elected mayor. He was re-elected to the council three times before he became mayor in 2006, again succeeding Stewart. He won re-election in 2010, then chose not to seek a third term.

In 2018, the Harry S Truman Award Commission selected Reimal for the annual Special Recognition Award for significant service to the city.

“He was a very kind-hearted person, a very empathetic person,” Weir said, “and wasn’t someone who stood up and demanded a lot of attention or credit.”

“Don and Mayor (Barbara) Potts and I kind of had this bond, being the mayors of Independence,” she said. “Now it’s just the two of us.”

Services for Reimal had not been announced as of Thursday morning. Under non-pandemic circumstances, Schultz said, such a service would surely pack a facility – and justifiably so.

Said Schultz: “He deserves a good farewell from this community.”