In the tiny town of Cuba, Kansas, there were no cars parked Monday along downtown’s Main Street.
The goodwill ambassador of Cuba — Dale Huncovsky, owner of the Cuba Cash Store, Two Doors Down Cafe and mayor of the Republic County town of 200 residents — died late Sunday night. He was 61 years old.
Funeral services will be at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at the Cuba Community Hall.
“This is just the biggest blow for Cuba — the school is gone and now Dale goes,” said Marci Penner, director of the Kansas Sampler Foundation in Inman. “He is the essence of small town Americana. He was just a common man that made all the difference in the world for Cuba.”
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Mr. Huncovsky was born July 9, 1953. He grew up on a nearby Republic County farm and in the mid-1980s bought the Cuba Cash Store along with his wife, LaVerna, right after he had suffered his first heart attack at the grain elevator.
Life in the north-central Kansas town often revolved around the Cuba Cash store — a more than century-old-grocery with the original warped wood floors, lockers with forged hinges and thick wood doors. It had a fresh meat case featuring Czech ring bologna, smoked briskets, ribs and custom meat packages.
His store would blast polka music through outdoor speakers along Main Street, and he was an avid supporter of Cuba’s Rock-a-Thon, where residents and alumni return to the tiny town and raise typically more than $25,000 annually for community projects by rocking in chairs.
About 10 years before the Huncovskys bought the grocery store, National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson began documenting the town. His photographs brought the town fame and it was featured twice on “CBS News Sunday Morning.” Richardson has continued through the years taking photos of the town.
On Monday, Richardson — who lives in Lindsborg — posted on his Facebook page:
“If you ever need a lesson on leadership in this world you can do no better than look at the example of Dale Huncovsky in Cuba, Kansas. Rest in peace.”
While Mr. Huncovsky was an avid community booster — serving as president of the town’s Booster Club and keeping the grocery store open — the community also supported him.
When he had major heart surgery, people stepped up and ran the store while he was in the hospital. And, when he no longer could unload the semi-truck each week filled with groceries, residents volunteered, sometimes meeting at 5 a.m. to help unload the truck’s contents.
“I’m thinking about the man who would drop everything to help someone in need, and who had a line of folks ready to do the same for him every week when the delivery truck pulled up to the store,” Nick Levendofsky wrote on his Facebook page. “I’m thinking about the man who always had a cold beer ready for you, and whose famous brisket could make a vegetarian switch sides.”
Last year, Mr. Huncovsky stepped down from his position as the president of the Booster Club so he could run for mayor.
“He has been under a lot of stress,” said Joan Holmberg, who often volunteered at Mr. Huncovsky’s Two Doors Down restaurant, unlocking the doors and making coffee. “There are a lot of problems in this small community, and he just was working too hard. We all knew it. But he was determined to keep going until he couldn’t.”
Cuba needs a new water system, she said, and much of his attention lately had been focused on helping his hometown work out the details.
Sunday morning, Mr. Huncovsky opened the grocery store and restaurant, Holmberg said. Later in the day, he worked on a cooler in the grocery store that was causing problems. Then, went home.
“We lost our bank, our school and elevator,” Holmberg said. “I’ve known for years that if something happens to Dale, that’s going to be the end of Cuba.
“I don’t see any young people people able to take over our grocery store and cafe. In a small town, I’m not sure one exists without the other. It’s too soon to know.”
Levendofsky, respectfully, disagreed.
“Cuba is a very strong community,” he said. “This will leave a huge gap. Everybody kind of revolved around Dale. He made things happen, and it will be a difficult void to fill.
“But I know the people of Cuba, they will get through this. It might be a pretty rough patch for awhile but they are resilient and in the end will be OK.”
Mr. Huncovsky is survived by his wife, LaVerna; daughters, Kelly Melton, of Cuba, and Kassi Huncovsky of Concordia; and son, Quint Huncovsky of Manhattan.