School 12

David Safford Hess

July 22, 1936 ~ June 25, 2022 (age 85)


Chances are, many of you have heard the name, Dave Hess. Those who were lucky to have him as your principal, teacher, substitute, colleague, friend, or family member, likely have many memories of him.

When Dave told a story, he included every descriptive detail. He did this to ensure that everyone understood not only the narrative he was sharing but to paint a clear picture of the setting. Dave’s stories were incomplete without vivid descriptions of the date, the day of the week, and even the weather on that day! Regardless of whether the memory he was sharing took place in 1952 or 2022, Dave would even note the color of his shirt and what he had for breakfast that day. Therefore, it is essential to include an illustrative description of who he was and the impact that he had on his family, friends, and community.

Dave was born in Momence, Illinois to his parents Roy and Kathleen Hess on July 22, 1936. A few years later, his younger sister, Judy Hemphill, who still resides in their hometown, was born. Both Dave and his sister followed in their mother’s footsteps and became educators.

Dave treasured his hometown of Momence. Illinois and constantly reminisced on the days he spent working at the local lumber company with his dad. Early in his childhood, he developed his admiration of sports and began his lifelong fascination and devotion to the Chicago Cubs and Chicago Bears. He attended many games at Wrigley Field and was beaming with joy when his Cubbies won the World Series in 2016. After high school, Dave attended Michigan State University and graduated with a bachelor's and a master’s degree in education. 

When he moved away from East Lansing, Dave decided that Michigan would be his forever home. He began teaching in Battle Creek and started writing a sports column for the Battle Creek Enquirer. Later, he moved to Ionia and started his lengthy career in the Ionia Public School System as a teacher at Emerson Elementary, where he later became principal. In 1968, he accepted a position as the first principal of Boyce Elementary School. During this time, Dave was the acting principal at both Emerson and Boyce. He retired as principal in 1994; however, Dave's former students continue to share recollections of him and thank him for caring about their education. 

Although Dave was retired, he could not stay out of the classroom and decided to become a substitute teacher. When Mr. Hess was the substitute teacher, the students knew that the day would be exciting, filled with tales from his childhood, his neverending knowledge of sports facts, and guest appearances of his Michigan State Fight Song singing Sparty doll. When Dave was their substitute, teachers knew that their lesson plans would likely be set aside and forgotten. Dave’s grandchildren took significant pride when informing their friends that their grandpa was Mr. Hess, the beloved substitute teacher.  

Not long after Dave moved to Ionia, he started working for the Ionia Free Fair Public Relations Department. For over 40 years, he would travel all over the state with the Free Fair Queen and Biffy, the fair mascot, to attend fairs and festivals to promote the upcoming fair festivities. 

He also planned the Ionia Free Fair parade for years, made countless phone calls, wrote numerous letters, and traveled near and far to network with marching bands, clowns, entertainers, and antique car collectors, all to ensure that the celebration would be packed with exciting attractions. Every year, he aspired to make the parade larger and better than the previous year. He enjoyed working for the fair and loved to talk about his time spent with entertainers backstage. Specifically, Dave’s standout recollections were drinking beers with Willie Nelson and visiting with friends under the grandstand. To honor Dave for his years of dedication, the Ionia Free Fair Association asked Dave to serve as the parade Grand Marshal. More recently, in July 2021, Dave and his family were honored as the Fair Family of the Year.

Anyone who had the pleasure of knowing Dave also was aware of his admiration for sports. Not only did he enjoy attending sporting events and watching games on TV, but he also spent decades as a broadcaster for Lakewood High School basketball and football games. Hundreds of his broadcasts were streamed on WBCH Radio in Hastings. In addition to his sports broadcasts, he also hosted a radio show on Ionia-area WION called Viewpointe. 

Dave was an engaged member of his community and spent his free time participating in various philanthropic organizations. He was a longtime member of the Ionia Area Jaycees and proudly served as president of the chapter. During his time in the Jaycees, he made lifelong friends and continued to fondly reflect on the good ole’ Jaycee days. Dave was also a proud supporter of the Boy Scouts of America. He was awarded the Silver Beaver Award, an award for registered adult leaders who have impacted the lives of youth through service given to the council. 

While Dave was proud of his numerous accomplishments during his long life, he took the most pride and joy in his family. When he married his wife, Patricia Gilner on December 10, 1965, their families also united as one. Dave had a unique connection with each of his family members and valued every minute spent with them. He will be lovingly remembered by his children, son, Richie of Battle Creek, daughter, Kelly Arens and husband, Todd of Ionia, stepson, Mark Mojzak of Grand Haven, and stepdaughter, Susan Mojzak Knipper of Iowa. In addition, he was an incredible grandfather to Sydney Arens and fiance, Austin Carpenter of Colorado, Trevor and Tanner Arens of Ionia, Quint Mojzak, wife, Kelsey, and son, Jackson of Florida, and Corey, Emily and Beth Conner of Iowa. 

Dave was preceded in death by his parents Roy and Kathleen Hess, wife Pat, and brother-in-law Mike Hemphill. 

We invite the community to celebrate Dave’s life on Thursday, July 7th, 2022, at 11:00 am at the Lehman Funeral Home in Ionia. To commemorate his love of sports, we invite you to wear green and white or the colors of your favorite sports team. While maize and blue are not preferred, you are still welcome!

In place of flowers, contributions in Dave’s honor can be made to the residential home where his son Richie has lived for almost 60 years: Kambly Living Center. Donations can be sent to 1003 North Avenue. Battle Creek, MI 49017 or made online at

To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of David Safford Hess, please visit our floral store.

Memorial Tree
A Memorial Tree was planted for David

We are deeply sorry for your loss - the staff at Lehman Funeral Homes - Ionia

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Time of Remembrance
July 7, 2022

11:00 AM
Lehman Funeral Homes - Ionia
220 Rich Street
Ionia, MI 48846

July 7, 2022

1:00 PM
Steele Street Hall
115 South Steele Street
Ionia, MI 48846

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