When the Minnesota Department of Transportation started construction projects, drivers could count on David Aeikens to keep them informed, even if it meant news of long detours and motoring misery.
For years, Aeikens led MnDOT's communication efforts on many key projects in the Twin Cities, including the recent rebuilding of Interstate 35W through south Minneapolis. It was his mission to keep drivers in the know, said MnDOT communications director Christine Krueger, who was Aeikens' boss.
"He was passionate about getting people the information they needed or had a right to know," Krueger said. "It didn't matter if those people were CEOs, concerned neighbors, frustrated motorists or reporters on deadline. He treated everyone with respect."
Aeikens, 53, died of complications from a liver condition Nov. 24 at Fairview Southdale Hospital in Edina.
A graduate of Albert Lea High School, Aeikens studied journalism at the University of St. Thomas and served as editor of the school paper. He wrote for his hometown paper, the Albert Lea Tribune, before moving to the West Central Tribune in Willmar, Minn. He later spent 21 years at the St. Cloud Times, where he worked as a reporter, editor and digital journalist covering everything from the Legislature and Jesse Ventura's election as governor to the Rocori High School shooting in Cold Spring, Minn. He won awards for articles that spotlighted how some government agencies were charging more than state law allowed for paper copies of government data.
"You could count on David to do what needed to be done," said former Times executive editor John Bodette. "The First Amendment has lost a champion. We have lost a friend."
Aeikens was a founder of the Midwest Journalism Conference and deeply involved with the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ). He served as national secretary-treasurer and committee chair of the organization's Legal Defense Fund. In 2008, he was elected SPJ's national president.
"SPJ is a richer and stronger organization because Dave gave it his all," said its president, Rebecca Aguilar. "He was passionate about journalism, committed to making sure we journalists were treated fairly and always the stellar storyteller."
Aeikens also encouraged new journalists. "He made that part of his mission," Bodette said.
After a brief stint as a digital journalist at KSTP-TV in the Twin Cities, Aeikens moved to MnDOT in 2016. He told the department's stories and gave countless interviews to TV stations and newspapers, all in the name of telling drivers what they needed to know and how they would be affected.
"He was good at doing that from a driver's perspective," said Michael Dougherty, a longtime friend and MnDOT co-worker who noted Aeikens routinely staffed the department's booth at the State Fair. "He made the effort to reach entities that would be affected by traffic. He described it as the best job he ever had."
Aeikens was a huge fan of the University of Minnesota's football and men's basketball teams. He loved playing golf and belonged to the Francis A. Gross Golf Club in Minneapolis. Every Labor Day weekend, acquaintances said, Aeikens would return to Albert Lea to play in a tournament.
He was proud of his pie baking and the treats he shared with his MnDOT co-workers, and he loved small-town pizza places, Dougherty said. His true legacy was "the number of friends he leaves," Dougherty said.
Aeikens is survived by parents, Leo and Sara Aeikens, formerly of Albert Lea and now of Northfield. Services have been held.