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Hunter's legacy lives on as community mourns local businessman

Dave Hunter poses with his grandsons.

Dave Hunter arrived in Mount Pleasant in 1975 with a bag full of clothes and his car. After 42 years operating bars and restaurants, he was one of the most successful business owners in town.

Almost every day, Dave Hunter would walk through the doors of the Wayside Central and his other establishments and work, according to his son John Hunter. He was working on the day he was rushed to the University of Michigan Health Care System in Ann Arbor. He died Nov. 21, the following day.

A funeral mass was held for Hunter on Nov. 27 at Sacred Heart Catholic Church. The 76-year-old leaves behind a family legacy as the owner of the Wayside Central, O’Kelly’s Sports Bar & Grill, Hunter’s Ale House, Hunter’s Handmade Brewery and the Cabin. He is survived by his wife, Cheryl, two sons, John and James, and three grandchildren, David, Dylan and Haven.

John Hunter called his father a self-made man. Though he was an avid supporter of Central Michigan University, he never went to college and instead worked hard as an entrepreneur who instilled his work ethic in his employees. He cared deeply for his employees and his community.

“He led by example,” John Hunter said. “He employed countless students over the years. Some of those students he employed have gone on to do great things.”

Dave Hunter loved CMU, particularly the wrestling program, for which he was a prominent donor. He also was a supporter of Sacred Heart Parish & Academy. He raised funds for both the church and school. He also spent his time coaching baseball at Sacred Heart and the local Little League.

Dave Hunter always included his family in his businesses, which John Hunter will now take over. He said he’s still trying to figure out how his father did everything he did.

“His shoes are going to be hard to fill,” John Hunter said. “He was able to accomplish the perfect work-life balance. We were always together and worked together. Everything we did was family time.”

He said the community has been incredibly supportive since the news broke. A Facebook post John Hunter wrote announcing his father’s death received a tidal wave of responses.

“I’m truly grateful for the opportunity your father created for me and so many others along their way with a pitstop in Mount Pleasant,” wrote a former employee. “Working for your family allowed me to support myself through college, learn to bartend, and make meaningful friendships.”

The news of Dave’s death affected Jim Holton, a city commissioner and the owner of Mountain Town Station, who called Hunter a mentor.

“He started off with nothing and built himself the American Dream,” Holton said.

Holton also praised Dave Hunter’s humility. He said he was an inspiration for business owners in Mount Pleasant and he avoided notoriety or praise for his work.

“He always made people smile,” Holton said. “He was a down-to-earth guy and never cared about money. He had a passion to see his businesses to grow, but it’s because he wanted to leave something for his family and I know his legacy will carry on.”

John Hunter said he’s in discussions to develop a scholarship at CMU. There are also plans to hold a baseball tournament in his honor.