(Birth year is approximate).
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Ned Heite Remembered for Historical Contributions
Edward F. "Ned" Heite was not a man who courted the limelight, but neither was he one to avoid controversy when it touched upon one of his many passions--he'd speak his mind and leave no doubt as to which side he was on.
The Dover native and longtime Camden resident passed away quietly April 17 at the age of 66* after an extended illness, leaving behind firm last wishes that there be no ceremony and only a few spare lines on the obituary page to memorialize him. But despite those instructions, those who knew him well could not let him pass without at least a few words.
"Ned never wanted the attention, and yet he contributed and he gave to everybody," said Dan Griffith, the recently retired director of the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs.
"He was such a unique guy, we just can't let him go without some recognition," said new state Archivist Russ McCabe of the man who, when serving as chief of the state archives, hired him in 1978.
Heite had deep roots in Delaware and once hinted his family was descended from the remnants of Blackbeard's pirate crew who had settled in old Kent County. The son of the late Harry and Catherine Heite, he grew up on State Street in Dover, graduated from Dover High School and earned both bachelor's and master's degrees in history from the University of Richmond in Virginia.
During a career that stretched over more than four decades, Heite was a writer, newspaper editor and college instructor as well as one of the state's most recognized archaeologists and experts on Delaware's early history. In the 1970s, he served as the state's first historic preservation officer, overseeing some of Delaware's first entries onto the National Register of Historic Places, and succeeded the legendary Dr. Leon deValinger as state archivist.
He left state employment in 1980, forming his own archaeological consulting firm, which he based in Camden. Despite the illness that was slowly sapping his strength, Heite remained active in his chose field, attending a regional archaeological conference only weeks before his death.
Heite was an imposing figure, a mustachioed bear of a man in thick glasses topped by a great shock of black hair. No matter where he was, he always fit the popular image of the archaeologist, from his ancient Land Rover--memorialized in a gold earring he sometimes wore--to his worn khakis and sturdy sandals.
"He was never known for his sartorial splendor. He never got dressed up, and when he did, even if it was a suit, it was always rumpled," McCabe said.
In Heite's case, clothes did not make the historian, however.
"With Ned, what you saw was what you got. He was never one to put on airs or sit in judgment. He was very open-minded," McCabe said.
"He made a tremendous contribution to archaeology in Delaware," Griffith said, recalling his friend and colleague of 30 years. "I think the depth of his knowledge of the documentary records at the State Archives and the details he knew of colonial life in Delaware are unrivaled."
As state archivist, Heite had a style all his own, McCabe recalled--and it wasn't all business.
"He enjoyed a good laugh, though his sense of humor could be a bit abstract at times," McCabe said, recalling that when the Skylab space station fell from orbit in 1979, Heite came to work wearing a helmet emblazoned with Skylab emblems--"something you could never imagine Leon deValinger doing. But he was cut from different cloth than Leon."
Heite also became involved in the Camden community. In addition to serving on the Camden Town Council in 1983 and 1984 and on the Planning Commission from 1986 until 1992, he'd turn up at council meetings to express his strongly held opinions, reserving his most thunderous righteous indignation for developments that threatened archaeological sites.
"Anybody that's ever met the guy couldn't forget him. He had such an eclectic interest in everything," McCabe said, recalling Heite's flair for the dramatic as well as his penchant for singing 18th century sailors' drinking songs. "He had this encyclopedic knowledge about the strangest things, particularly any element of Delaware history. He had some information about just about anything you asked him."
His personal memories as well as his historical knowledge made him a man to call for information. Most recently, he shared tales of Kitts Hummock Beach in a 2003 story for the Dover Post, recalling the details of his boyhood summers as well as the background of the sleepy bayside community.
He dismissed the theory that the beach was named for pirate Capt. Kidd with typical authority: "Nonsense!" he boomed. As for the Hummock part - "It's spelled 'hummock' but it's pronounced 'hammock,'" he corrected.
A prolific writer, Heite either wrote or co-authored, some with ex-spouse Dr. Louise Heite, more than 200 articles and reports on subjects ranging from excavations at a 19th century Lebanon cannery to a treatise on the types of beer available in Iceland. Most recently, he did groundbreaking research into Delaware's Native American history, which McCabe said he hopes might be published as part of Heite's legacy.
"He was a very colorful writer," McCabe added--even in the memos he sent to archives staff. "And he loved digging for details."
McCabe recalls Heite visited the Archives just a week and a half ago to do research and congratulate him on his promotion. "I was particularly touched by the fact that he came," said McCabe, who knew his health to be failing.
On March 31, his last day of work at the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, Griffith said he visited his old friend for a little celebration and a chat.
"We just sat there and talked about archaeology," he said. "I remember giving and getting a hug from him. I'm really glad I did that."
By Jeff Brown & Joanna Wilson,
The Dover Post, April 20, 2005
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Historian Heite Remembered
Camden -- Some called Edward F. "Ned" Heite a walking encyclopedia.
To others, he was a renaissance man.
The 64-year-old* former state archivist, archaeologist and local historian, who died Sunday, will be missed by many who knew him.
"We have lost one of Delaware's preeminent historians of the late 20th century, certainly the last 30 years," state archivist Russell McCabe said Monday.
Charles Altevogt, vice president of the Historical Society of Camden, said he had only met Mr. Heite a few times but he seemed like a walking encyclopedia of information.
Society president Pat Dyer concurred, saying Mr. Heite attended a few of the group's meetings.
"He was very knowledgeable on Camden's history," Mr. Dyer said. "I often liked to talk to him because he could tell me things that I didn't know."
Mr. McCabe calle Mr. Heite one of the more interesting individuals he'd ever met.
"He was a guy who just had a tremendous amount of learning, knowledge, experience ... you pick the words," Mr. McCabe said.
Mr. McCabe said Mr. Heite, who was the archivist at the time, hired him fresh out of college in 1978 to work at the archives.
The two shared an interest and love of Delaware history and Mr. Heite nurtured that interest by setting him to work reading and sorting old land documents from around the state.
"That was one of the great things about Ned, he loved sharing what he knew," Mr. McCabe said. "I guess I'm just lucky enough to be one of those people."
He said Mr. Heite loved the minutiae of history. It was from the documents behind the stories that he believed history came.
"The real stories," Mr. McCabe said. "There's no substitute for that.
"He always wanted to know the facts behind the story, the how and why and that's kind of what he stimulated in me."
Mr. McCabe called Mr. Heite a man of eclectic and broad interests.
"No one knew more sailors' drinking songs from hundreds of years ago and could sing them on pitch," he said.
Mr. Heite, he said, was curious about everything, not just history, and he could be a character at times, never squeamish about expressing his opinion or debating a topic.
Mr. Heite also studied history more physically, as an archaeologist with his own business, Edward F. Heite Consulting in Camden.
Mr. McCabe said the business did a lot of survey work for major development sites, particularly in coastal Sussex County.
He also surveyed the area for Bowers Landing, a proposed development near Bowers Beach, on which an 18th century cemetery and farmhouse had been uncovered.
According to Delaware State News archives, Mr. Heite and his firm worked on a site near Smyrna dating to 1771 and at a site off McKee Road in Dover.
He told the State News in 1995 that while it's important to record history, it's just as important to preserve community.
"We ask questions of the dirt," he said. "I don't trust people. I trust the dirt. The dirt is always truthful."
Mr. Heite also had been involved in Camden politics as a town planning commissioner and commission chairman.
In the early '90s, he won a lawsuit claiming that the Camden-Wyoming Sewer and Water Authority unfairly represented the population of Camden.
Mr. Heite's wife, Marilyn, declined to comment Monday.
Information from Torbert Funeral Chapel indicated that he will be cremated. There was no mention of funeral or memorial services.
By Kate House-Layton,
Delaware State News, April 19, 2005
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* (Conflicting information regarding his age; still being researched).
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