Former SPJ National President Dave Aeikens remembered as champion for journalism
Rebecca Aguilar, SPJ National President, 317-361-4134, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jennifer Royer, SPJ Director of Communications and Marketing, 317-361-4134, email@example.com
INDIANAPOLIS — Dave Aeikens, an award-winning journalist and SPJ National President in 2008-09, died last week from complications from a liver condition. He was 53.
The Society of Professional Journalists remembers Aeikens as a hard-working journalist, lifelong sports fan and friend who made the organization more robust and better under his leadership.
“SPJ is a richer and stronger organization because Dave gave it his all,” said SPJ President Rebecca Aguilar. “He was passionate about journalism, committed to making sure we journalists were treated fairly, and always the stellar storyteller.”
Aeikens got involved in SPJ through his school’s chapter at the University of Saint Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. After graduating with a degree in journalism, he stayed in Minnesota. His first job was at his hometown newspaper, the Albert Lea Tribune. There he covered the police beat, school board meetings and city council. Eventually, he would land at the St. Cloud Times where he worked as a reporter, editor and digital journalist for 21 years.
Aeikens created good change through his reporting. He and a fellow reporter exposed how some government agencies in Minnesota were charging more than state law allowed for paper copies of government data. Their investigation resulted in a change in the state law that only permitted government agencies to charge 25 cents per page.
Aside from being an expert in Minnesota open records laws, Aeikens was also recognized with numerous awards for his work in journalism, including several Freedom of Information awards.
When he wasn’t reporting, Aeikens volunteered to lead with SPJ and other journalism organizations. At SPJ, he served as Legal Defense Fund chair, national secretary-treasurer and national president-elect. He was also director of SPJ Region 6 and the Minnesota Pro Chapter president.
He was one of the founding organizers of the Midwest Journalism Conference, the SPJ Region 6 conference combined with five other media organizations. Aeikens also chaired the Marquette Tribune Task Force in 2006, which issued a report on the events that led to the dismissal of the Marquette Tribune adviser.
In 2014, Aeikens moved on to television news. For two years, he worked at KSTP-TV, where he worked on the digital team. He left in 2016 and joined the Minnesota Department of Transportation, where he used his talents to inform the public and tell MnDOT’s stories for the past five years.
John Bodett, Aeikens’ former editor at the St. Cloud Times, said, “the First Amendment has lost a champion. We have lost a friend.”
A tribute to Aeikens from his SPJ family:
Dave Aeikens touched the lives of many SPJ members who remember him with much respect and fondness.
Dave Cuillier, Past SPJ National President, 2013-14:
“He was passionate about journalism and SPJ, always raising good suggestions for how we could make both better.”
Steve Geimann, Past SPJ National President, 1996-97:
"He had a great sense of humor, and he often directed that at some of the stalwarts. But his heart was in the right place. He cared about journalism, and he really cared about SPJ."
Irwin Gratz, President of the SPJ Foundation, Past National President of SPJ, 2004-05:
"I enjoyed my time with him, even though I had to endure the slings and arrows Dave would regularly send my way as the Mets stumbled through another baseball season. I will miss him. SPJ, richer for his efforts on our behalf, will be poorer in his absence."
Jane Kirtley, SPJ Foundation Board Member:
“A native of the state, he was the quintessential Minnesota journalist -- unfailingly polite, but doggedly determined to get the news the public needed and deserved to hear. I'm glad he was able to share his talents and enthusiasm with SPJ national as president.”
Hagit Limor, SPJ Foundation Vice President, Past SPJ National President, 2010-11:
"When Dave walked in a room, he was like a puppy bounding with energy and friendly cheer. But underneath this jovial exterior, his gears were turning constantly to assess and apply his astute political skills. He sought solutions and usually found them. The only thing he may have loved more than politics was sports. Dave believed in journalism and SPJ, and we’ll miss him."
Joe Radske, SPJ Region 6 Coordinator:
“Dave was a leader and a lion of SPJ. As a lifetime member he stayed active and kept tabs on all of us in Region 6 and Minnesota Pro. You couldn’t say no to Dave, he wouldn’t let you. SPJ owes a debt of gratitude to Dave Aeikens. An accolade he would say he does not deserve.”
Joe Skeel, former SPJ Executive Director:
“I will forever be grateful for Dave’s support, kindness and steadfastness while serving as SPJ President. During his term, we lost Executive Director Terry Harper to cancer. Knowing how close staff was to Terry, Dave showed great compassion while serving as a rock for SPJ at a time of great sadness and uncertainty.”
A celebration of life is scheduled for 11 a.m. CST, Dec. 1, at Bierman Funeral Home, 1316 Division St. S., Northfield, Minnesota. Memorial gifts may be made to the Society of Professional Journalists, 3909 N. Meridian St., Suite 200, Indianapolis, IN 46208.
Aeikens is survived by his parents, Leo and Sara Aeikens, and many aunts, uncles and cousins.
SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to informing citizens; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and fights to protect First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. Support excellent journalism and fight for your right to know. Become a member, give to the Legal Defense Fund or give to the SPJ Foundation.