Longtime Iron Range mining executive diesDave DeLeo studied for a law degree before taking a job with Reserve Mining in 1960, beginning a 40-year career in mining.
By: Mike Creger, Duluth News Tribune
In Dave DeLeo’s time in the taconite mining industry, he was a firsthand witness to the tumultuous changes in the 1970s and 1980s that dramatically altered the Iron Range.
DeLeo, 75, died Saturday in Duluth.
The native of Eveleth graduated from Hibbing High School in 1954. His dad had worked in the Mahoning Mine, and the family home was perched on its rim.
After graduating with a degree in geology from Carleton College in Northfield, DeLeo worked for Boeing in Seattle and studied for a law degree before taking a job with Reserve Mining in 1960.
“Little did anyone, especially Dave, know that was the start of the ups and downs he would experience in his ensuing 40-year mining career,” his family wrote in a biography.
He worked in an assortment of management positions for Reserve in Babbitt and Silver Bay, where whole new towns sprouted along with the taconite operations started in the 1950s. He was at Reserve through the combative taconite tailings disputes that began in the 1970s. The protracted court battle led to a ban on dumping tailings into Lake Superior and eventually the demise of Reserve in 1986.
DeLeo stayed on through the bankruptcy proceedings, in charge of selling off Reserve’s assets.
In 1989, Denver-based Cyprus-Amax bought the former Reserve properties in Babbitt and Silver Bay for $52 million. DeLeo played a part in the transaction and became general manager. In 1994, Cleveland-Cliffs bought the plants after Cyprus spent about $30 million on improvements. Cliffs renamed it Northshore Mining. DeLeo stayed on as a general manager.
In 1996 he was asked to return to Eveleth and revitalize the Thunderbird Mine and Fairlane plant for Oglebay Norton. He was at what was then called EVTAC until 1999, when his health took a turn for the worse, suffering from signs of Parkinson’s disease, his family wrote.
He and his wife, Sharon, started an antiques shop in Two Harbors that eventually grew to include a restaurant. Lake County Commissioner Paul Bergman purchased Shari’s Kitchen in 1998 and today it’s the Vanilla Bean Café.
Bergman said he understood how DeLeo’s style worked for mining companies trying to stay afloat.
“I can see how he could do it,” Bergman said. “He was a very dynamic person.”
The couple enjoyed sailing on the Great Lakes and, in 2001, sailed from Superior to their retirement home in Appalachicola, Fla. In 2005, they were caught up in a hurricane on the Gulf of Mexico. They survived the capsizing of their boat and had to be rescued by the Coast Guard, Bergman said.
Dave’s Parkinson’s symptoms became worse, the family said, and he had surgery. After the procedure, he developed memory loss.
In October, a letter to the editor was published in the News Tribune from Sharon DeLeo, who was responding to a Mitch Albom column on marriage and illness.
She said her husband “suffered from a terrible dementia, equaling or surpassing Alzheimer’s; it’s called Lewy Body Disease.”
“Yes, I have lost the man whom I have loved for 30 years,” she wrote of dealing with Dave’s dementia. “I’ve lost the husband who adored me, but taking care of him is an honor and a privilege. It’s allowing me time to prepare myself to lose him permanently.”
Determined to provide her husband with surroundings he found familiar, Sharon built an assisted living facility on their property in Duluth.
Memorial services are pending. For a full obituary, see Page .
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