(This will be updated as more information becomes available.)
Updated with corrections and additional information on Sunday evening, July 1.
By Jack Durham
David Elsebusch, a relentless critic of local government who ran for public office several times, died Thursday morning, June 28 at his home in McKinleyville. He was 77 years old.
According to his wife of 52 years, Penny, he “passed away in his sleep peacefully from heart-related issues.”
“It is assumed that his heart just stopped, as he had been having heart issues and had been going to the San Francisco VA for various tests and was scheduled for an angiogram in less than two weeks from his death,” Penny wrote in an email to the Press.
Elsebusch was a regular at local government meetings, often commenting on issues before the McKinleyville Community Services District Board of Directors and the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors.
Elsebusch’s other passions included auto racing and vintage race cars.
He regularly attended races at Redwood Acres in Eureka and wrote a column called “Motorsports” for the McKinleyville Press. Elsebusch routinely lobbied the McKinleyville Press to make as much room possible for photos of the racers so they could be recognized for their accomplishments on the track.
He loved vintage race cars – not just sports cars, but vehicles that had an actual racing history, like his early 1960s two-seater Lotus Seven,
David enjoyed traveling to vintage auto races with Penny.
(Here’s David Elsebusch racing his Lotus (No. 14) at Laguna Seca.)
Elsebusch was born in Los Angeles, attended Los Angeles City College and majored in wildlife management and business at Los Angeles State College.
He served in the United States Marines and excelled in rifle shooting contests. He soon became a rifle coach. He was a member of the sea-going detachment aboard an aircraft carrier.
Elsebusch described his business career in a biography he posted on the League of Women Voters Smart Voter website when he ran for a seat on the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District 1999. Elsebusch wrote “After serving as a Resident Adjuster in San Diego and Claim Manager for major insurance companies, I became the Director of Internal Audit of a large nation-wide insurance company with responsibilities for auditing branch offices for compliance with laws and corporate policies, accurate financial reports, performed operational audits, and investigated fraudulent claims and employee dishonesty.”
David and Penny became acquainted with Humboldt County during their many travels up the coast from Los Angeles to Canada over a period of 35 years.
According to Penny, they “usually traveled in December as crab season was open and would stop in Trinidad to pick up cooked crabs at Katy’s Smokehouse and usually stayed somewhere in Trinidad a couple of days of the trip and ate crab.”
In 1993, the couple moved to McKinleyville.
Elsebusch then acquired a California Independent Insurance Adjusters license and started a business, Crocker Claims Service of Northern California, investigating and adjusting property, casualty, fire, inland marine, and worker’s compensation claims. He was also a licensed private investigator
David Elsebusch and Penny became regulars at local government meetings, commenting on multiple issues, requesting public documents and acting as watchdogs.
No one seemed immune to David’s criticisms. He often accused board members of incompetence, mismanaging public funds and, sometimes, corruption. There were no sacred cows that were sparred from his critical testimony at meetings and multiple scathing letters to the editor.
He criticized the McKinleyville Community Services District, the Board of Supervisors, local school boards, the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District, the Arcata Fire Department and the McKinleyville Press, to name a few.
While the man speaking from the dais could come off as a harsh critic, in private conversations he was amicable and had a good sense of humor.
Elsebusch served twice on the Humboldt County Grand Jury. He ran unsuccessfully several times for a seat on the McKinleyville Community Services District board. He also ran for the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District. At the time of his death, he was the vice president of the Humboldt County taxpayers League.
For almost all his life, Elsebusch was a member of the Audubon Society. He was also a member of the Sierra Club.
Reaction to his passing
After Elsebusch died early Thursday morning, word spread quickly through the community.
On the McKinleyville Press Blog and Facebook page, readers of the McKinleyville Press said they would miss his commentary.
One person wrote that Elsebusch “never held back from bringing up varied points and perspectives, which fostered thought. McKinleyville won’t be the same!”
Fifth District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg wrote “Dave and I always had a friendly banter, back and forth. My father passed at 38 years old (I was 15), but as time has passed, I feel lucky to have him that long. I know many people who never had a father. My thoughts and prayers are with the family at this very difficult time.”
The Board of Supervisors was scheduled Tuesday, July 3, to adjourn its meeting in memory of Elsebusch.
On his Samoa Softball blog, Richard Marks wrote “David was one of a kind. Opinionated, vocal and confident in his ideals. I first ran across David and his wife Penny at Citizens Port Development meetings in the 90’s while I worked for Louisiana Pacific. They were a great tag team when it comes to politics. Robin and I saw and visited David and Penny at stock car races, and they both had articles reporting the races locally. David once wrote a letter to the editor challenging people to run for office and it was that little push that had me sign up years back. And while he did not necessarily agree with my politics, he wrote me a check to start me on my way. Some people just gripe and complain and do nothing to try to solve issues. This was not David. He was feet first in controversy. He will be sorely missed in this community.
‘I did it my way’
David and Penny owned every single Frank Sinatra album, which David played frequently. According to Penny, David loved the song “I Did It My Way” and felt it epitomized his life.
And now, the end is here
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I’ll say it clear
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain
I’ve lived a life that’s full
I traveled each and ev’ry highway
And more, much more than this, I did it my way.
Elsebusch is survived by his wife of 52 years, Penny, of McKinleyville; daughter Kandice Astamendi and her husband Michael of Toluca Lake; and grandson Cole of Toluca Lake.
Per David Elsebusch’s wishes, no funeral services will be held. He’ll be cremated.