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Don Michalove, who led the city as 'strong mayor,' dies at age 86

Don Michalove died Sunday, Dec. 15, at age 86. Don Michalove died Sunday, Dec. 15, at age 86.

Don Michalove, who led the city of Hendersonville as mayor in the 1980s and early ‘90s, died on Sunday in San Antonio, Texas, where he and his wife had moved about six years ago. He was 86.

A city commissioner from 1977 to 1981, Michalove ran for mayor in 1981 on a platform of returning the city to a form of government under which the mayor and commissioners and not a city manager were responsible for the running the city. On Dec. 15, 1981, five days after he was sworn in as mayor, Michalove called a special meeting of the commissioners to change to the mayor-council form of government. Commissioners adopted the resolution that made the change by a 3-2 vote. Commissioners at the time were Joel Wright, R.B. Shealy, Sam Mills and Pat Whitmire, and Francis Coiner was the city attorney.
“He was what they call a strong mayor,” said current Mayor Barbara Volk, who served with Michalove her first term on the City Council. “He didn’t have a city manager. He was responsible for all the activities of the city, which was a different job than what I faced. He was very dedicated to the city. He and his family grew up here. He worked very hard. He was very dedicated to the job he did for the city.”
Michalove’s daughter in San Antonio, Melissa Michalove Smith, said that her father had been diagnosed with cancer about two years ago and died Sunday after six weeks of hospice care. His wife, Eleanor Nanney “Ellie” Michalove, died in February 2015.
Smith said that her father often talked about his time as mayor and could list the achievements he was most proud of, among them starting the anti-drug DARE program in city schools, making sure city departments stayed under budget, working with the NCDOT on a thoroughfare plan to solve congestion, pushing for the Whitmire recreation center and senior citizen programs, improving fire service so property owners got lower insurance rates, building a top police department and keeping the city clean.
“He had an open-door policy for everyone,” she said. “Anyone that wanted to come to see him was welcome to.”
Volk, who was elected to the council in 1989, said Michalove enjoyed his time as mayor, going to work at City Hall every day and being involved in everything.
“He was fulltime,” she said. “Each of the council members was the commissioner for certain departments. It was expected you would talk to those departments but it was still pretty clear that Mayor Michalove was in charge. He was just well known. I think everybody in town knew him. That’s the way it was back then. He could walk down Main Street and everybody knew he was the mayor.”
Michalove had been running Daniel’s, the furniture store on Main Street at Third Avenue founded by his father, before he was elected to the City Commission, and after he served as mayor he hosted the Open Line news-talk show on WHKP radio. But his time as mayor was a highlight of his life, his daughter said.
“The things most important to my dad were his family, his children and the city of Hendersonville,” she said. “It was truly his home. He was a big supporter of all things Hendersonville.”
He was active throughout his life in civic affairs and nonprofit service as well. He served as Exalted Ruler of the Elks Lodge, vice president of the Jaycees, was a charter member of the Sertoma Club and served on the Salvation Army board member. He was a member of the Lions Club and Hendersonville Country Club, served as local board chair of the First Southern Savings & Loan, served on the board of Agudas Israel Congregation, was vice president of the Land of Sky Regional Council and served on an economic development committee for the N.C. League of Municipalities. “And that was just the formal things he did,” Smith said.
Although a conservative about the city budget, Michalove was also a strong Democrat when the city was run by Democrats. The Nanneys, his in-laws from Tryon, named their children Eleanor and Franklin Delano.
“The way you got elected to the city council was by winning the Democratic primary,” Volk said. “Sometimes the Republicans didn’t even put out candidates. It was a foregone conclusion that Democrats would win. It was a different time then.”
In addition to Smith, Michalove is survived by two other daughters, Lori Hovis and Rachel Michalove, and five grandchildren. A graveside funeral service will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 8, at Oakdale Jewish Cemetery followed by a reception at Agudas Israel Congregation.
“I think really the biggest thing my dad would want people to know,” Smith said, “is how much he loved the community and all the people and how much he truly cared about everyone. You might have disagreed with him but he truly cared.”