Dori Wittrig of RE/MAX Sun Properties started a group in 2016 which would bring a new generation of leadership to the Town of Fountain Hills. This is a group of individuals who are business owners or those who have a love for the town and could be potential leaders for Fountain Hills. I was fortunate to be in class two and am thankful for that fact because I had the chance to meet a man who I had never seen around or met before, but he made an impact on people, including me, when he talked about who he was.
Week one of eight classes for the Leadership Academy met at the Sanitary District. John Weil of RE/MAX Sun Properties and a graduate of class one led the group that day and came up with a unique way for us to introduce ourselves. He asked us to go up and say our name, share a few words a little bit about our background, followed by our favorite movie quote.
One by one we went up and gave a short bio. The person who got my attention the most, and I am sure others in the group felt the same way, was a story told by Don Harvel.
Don was a graduate of class two and was a retired Air Force Brigadier General who worked as a lead investigator for the Air Force in 2010 in Afghanistan when a crash caused four fatalities. In such a case, a general is put in charge with a team of investigators.
I was fortunate to hear some of the story when we all introduced ourselves, but I will leave it up to you to purchase his book, “Rotors in The Sand,” a 50-chapter missive, which details how the investigation took place including the hurdles and challenges faced during the investigation.
Don and I got to know each other during the eight weeks of the academy. I learned he moved here with his family after he retired from Delta as a commercial pilot in 2016. This was surprising to me because, from the short time I knew him, he had already made a name for himself in town. I thought maybe he had been here for years.
Don made his presence in our community and took on the leadership role that many have through the Leadership Academy. My dad was in town a little over a year ago and we were out to lunch. We were finishing up when I felt two hands grab my shoulders and a voice said, “How is Brent doing today?” I turned around, and it was Don. He had that big smile on his face, as he always did, and before I even got a chance to introduce him to my dad, he ran over to him with his hand out.
Don gave my dad a big handshake and said, “It is such an honor to meet you, sir, and I am such a big fan of your son.” This was Don, very humble, kind and always made you feel special when he was around you.
Don was extremely excited about the release of his book. He has also conducted interviews recently on social media and in this newspaper to promote the book. He was not sure he was going to write a follow-up but, if he didn’t, he said he was happy to have published his story in this book.
Don suffered a massive heart attack and passed away over this past Labor Day weekend. The news was shocking and sad to hear for myself and so many that he has touched in such a short time in the community.
It says a lot about someone who comes into a community and makes such an impact in such a short time. Don was a leader not only in our community, but to the many lives he touched through his career no matter what he did or what field he was in.
My heart goes out to the Harvel family. I was honored to have known him for the short time I did, and I encourage our readers to pick up his book and read his amazing story.
There will be a memorial for him at the Veterans Memorial at Fountain Park Saturday, Sept. 26, at 5:30 p.m.