Stark County says goodbye to pillar community leader
Stark County lost a true community man, Arnie Binek this past weekend. The Press sat down with various fair board personnel, his wife of 52 years to detail Binek’s legacy and contributions to the county.
It takes a real community-embodied person to envision a dream and watch it come to life. The late Arnie Binek was just the right idealist to lead Stark County, leaving behind irreplaceable shoes for someone just as dedicated to fill.
Arnie Binek passed away at the age of 73 Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021, due to heart failure after his wife, Linda, had called for an ambulance to come to their home in Dickinson.
Linda and Arnie Binek tested positive for COVID-19 the week before Thanksgiving. The virus took Arnie Binek to the hospital one evening, and while he was seeking medical attention, doctors took a blood test which indicated blood issues. One week later, Arnie Binek was diagnosed with aplastic anemia. The doctor confirmed that there was a procedure Arnie Binek could undergo with a 70% chance of success.
On Jan. 4, Arnie Binek began treatment for his diagnosis. He received shots and infusions, spending three weeks at a hospital in Bismarck and one week in Dickinson.
Arnie Binek developed pneumonia about two weeks ago, but was released from the hospital Jan. 19. On Saturday, Jan. 23, Arnie Binek “woke up in a pretty good mood,” Linda Binek said. However, he was showing some unusual signs.
His body was readily shaking and cold to touch. But it didn’t stop him from getting one of his chores done and chatting with friends on the phone. Later that evening, Linda and Arnie Binek sat around watching the news. At 3:30 a.m., Linda Binek woke up and went into the living room where the TV had been left on. Arnie Binek was sitting in his chair, but he was “incoherent and very clammy.”
Linda Binek tried getting her husband outside and into the car, but he had no strength to walk. She called an ambulance and upon arriving at the Binek’s home of 150 acres, first responders transferred Arnie Binek to Bismarck and his heart gave out while on the drive.
WHO’S GOING TO FILL ARNIE’S SHOES
Arnie Binek’s passing came to a sudden surprise for many of his longtime friends and colleagues, including Frank Klein, a Stark County Fair Association board member. Klein knew Arnie Binek since 1985 and they served together on the Stark County Park Board for 10 years.
Klein also worked with Arnie Binek on the Stark County Fair Association since it was established in 2001 and noted that he was always a dedicated, hard worker. He saw through his many visions for Stark County, such as constructing the rodeo arena — which was moved from its previous location on the Dickinson State University campus to the new fairgrounds location off of Highway 22, a couple miles south of Dickinson.
“I was really shocked. I knew he missed a couple of our meetings; I knew he wasn’t feeling well but I didn’t know it was that serious,” Klein said. “We’re going to miss the guy, there’s no doubt about it. Those are going to be hard shoes to fill, no doubt about it.”
Klein noted that Arnie Binek’s passion for rodeo shined through his devoted efforts in founding the rodeo arena.
“... He was definitely dedicated to the rodeo, that was the thing that he was really up on. He knew a lot about rodeos so on and so far. And he was a fair person. He really wasn’t as wild about motor sports, but he always gave me my moment to express my opinion, you know,” Klein said, with a chuckle. “I was not the rodeo guy; he was not the motor sports guy… But we got along, and sometimes you have to agree to disagree and that’s the way it is. When you’re on a board, you’re not going to get your way all the time because there’s six or eight people (on the board).”
Klein added that, “(Arnie) was mild-mannered most of the time but yet he could be firm and stand up for his convictions when he had to. And I think that determination was one of the things that helped us to get these fairgrounds finally moved south of town and come along as far as we’ve had.”
Stark County Park Director Lisa Heiser initially had Arnie Binek as her teacher back in Dickinson High School over 30 years ago. When Heiser started working for Stark County Park Board, Arnie Binek was the president of the Board. He served on the Stark County Park Board for 32 years and the Stark County Fair Association for 20 years.
“He was fun. Arnie was very much a historian of things, so he would always tell me the history of everything that had happened. Whether it was a board member (or) an actual board, he would know the history of how they became, what they did, when they did it. He’s the longest serving person on our park board, which I was shocked by that,” Heiser said.
Arnie Binek was always constantly looking at what he could do to better the Stark County community, Heiser said. He served on multiple boards including the Roughrider Commission.
Linda Binek would also describe him as very passionate and community-orientated.
“He was a people person. He taught for 32 years at Dickinson High School. He was a lifelong teacher,” Linda Binek said. “... He has many students and they hold him in high regard.”
LIFE WITH ARNIE OVER THE YEARS
Arnie Binek grew up on a small hobby farm in Dickinson where his father worked at the Binek Coal Mine and his mother had two milk cows and chickens.
“At a very young age, Arnie would be on the tractor, doing the haying or going out and getting the cows at night. His work ethic was really strong; he believed in working, that was his primary activity. He liked to work,” Linda Binek said. “He didn’t care what it was, whether it was physical work, mental work or whatever.”
Linda Binek first met her husband where they both attended Catholic grade school and transferred to Trinity Catholic Schools. Arnie and Linda Binek married in 1968 and were together for 52 years. The couple had two children, Beau and Marya. Arnie Binek started off as a teacher for Dickinson High School in 1970, where he taught physical education and moved on to sciences, such as physical science and geology. Just before he retired from Dickinson High School in 2002, Arnie Binek taught geology at Dickinson State University.
“He was a leader type of person. He tried to get everybody to understand everybody,” Linda Binek said.
Arnie Binek was an outdoors man and was always tinkering around outside whether it was with the horses or other farm work.
“(Arnie was) loyal, very loyal. I always thought of it as I’m the hub and he got to go do his thing all the way around, but the hub was right there, that he could come home to and be here,” Linda Binek said as she beamed and reflected on her marriage of 52 years.
MOVING FORWARD WITHOUT ARNIE
As of now, the Stark County Park Board Chairman is Randy Schwartz. The Stark County Fair Association and the Park Board will need to fill Arnie Binek’s board member positions.
“He was just the one who saw the vision and just saw it through… We wouldn’t have our fairgrounds out there if it wasn’t for Arnie,” Heiser said. “And it was his dream to have a building out there — an indoor arena — so that’s kind of where him and I shared that passion for that to be able to provide that for our 4H kids and all of the community members who require that and have this space for people to use. Our community would be lost without Arnie Binek, very lost.”
Linda Binek noted that she will miss her husband’s presence and their lifelong friendship.
“He’d go outside and do his thing. I never knew where he was but he was always doing something. If I’d go East, he’d be West so he got around all over,” she said. “He liked the garden, the flowers, the haying — he loved haying.”
Filling Arnie Binek’s position and his vision for Stark County will be “really tough,” Heiser added.
“He was very passionate about what he did and helped us with every single event... From flipping burgers to standing at the shoot, (he was always) working hard,” Heiser said. “We’re just going to work even that much harder to help his vision of what he saw out there. I think that’s probably the most important right now.”