Community

Kurt Friese honored for 'driving desire' to help others

Eulogies recall life of supervisor and longtime restaurant owner

Devon Friese sits at the edge of the stage Saturday and raises a glass of rye whiskey as he toasts his father during a celebration of life service for Kurt Friese at the Englert Theatre in Iowa City. The county supervisor and longtime restaurant owner died Oct. 26 at age 54. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Devon Friese sits at the edge of the stage Saturday and raises a glass of rye whiskey as he toasts his father during a celebration of life service for Kurt Friese at the Englert Theatre in Iowa City. The county supervisor and longtime restaurant owner died Oct. 26 at age 54. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — Friends and family of Johnson County Supervisor Kurt Friese, who died suddenly Oct. 26, gathered Saturday for a celebration of life fit for a foodie and politician.

Dozens of community members attended the service, held in the Englert Theatre in downtown Iowa City. A number of speakers from the different interests and careers in Friese’s life eulogized him.

“He just had so many interests,” said Vicki Siefers, a Coralville native and fellow member of the Unitarian Universalist Society. “He just did so many things. I’m still astonished at every thing he was working on.”

Siefers said Friese was passionate about social justice and would be one of the first people on the church’s pride parade entry because he believed in LGBTQ rights.

“He lived that, you know?,” Siefers said. “I think that’s how I remember him is in those parades.”

While no foul play is expected in the death of the county supervisor and longtime restaurant owner, who died at his home, the medical examiner planned an autopsy to determine the cause.

Friese, 54, was first elected to the Johnson County Board of Supervisors in 2016 to a term through 2020. He and his wife, Kim McWane Friese, owned the acclaimed Devotay, an icon in the local restaurant scene, for 21 years.

Author Elissa Altman, who wrote Friese’s obituary, spoke during the service. They met when Altman and Friese were working on magazines that were a part of Edible Communities, a national group of publications that covered local food movements.

“We were both a passionate about food, food justice and morally compelled to feed our communities,” Altman said. “We both had a teenie tiny cookbook addiction that made our spouses just a little bit crazy.”

McWane Friese said her husband, who she met when they were both students at Coe College, had a “driving desire” and passion to show everyone love.

“We are the luckiest people because we know how love works,” McWane Friese said.

Devon Friese, the couple’s son, told the crowd his father left plenty of goals he hoped to accomplish. He recommended that those in attendance honor his dad by cooking a meal for a stranger, buying someone a drink or even participating in “meaningful and informed debate.”

“A lot of people have been asking over the last week how they can help,” Devon Friese said. “He had a lot of unfinished projects, a lot of great ideas he didn’t have time to complete ... It’s now up to all of us to finish them.”

Friese’s friend and fellow supervisor, Mike Carberry, said during his eulogy that Friese wore so may hats because he was a good multitasker.

“The hat that Kurt liked wearing the most in the last few years was that of a community organizer and social justice activist,” Carberry said. “Kurt started out as a slow-food and a local food pioneer with a pension for politics. But in the end he became a full-time political advocate who is fighting for those without a voice ...”

Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert, Recorder Kim Painter and Treasurer Tom Kriz will convene a committee to decide to elect or appoint a replacement to the Johnson County Board of Supervisors. The meeting is scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday in the Johnson County Administration Building.

• Comments: (319) 339-3172; maddy.arnold@thegazette.com.

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