By Brian Ojanpa
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — Jeff Haefner was the most familiar local TV presence that viewers never saw.
That was the ham radio buff in him. Better to be heard than seen, Harry Haefner said of a son who possessed the crisp, dulcet voice tones of a classic announcer.
“I asked him so many times, ‘Why don’t you get in front of the camera sometimes?’ But he wanted no part of that.”
Haefner, whose recent sudden death at 57 stunned friends and family, worked behind the scenes in production at KEYC TV for 36 years.
He was the station’s main director and its go-to voice for commercial announcements and in-house program sign-ons for such shows as “Bandwagon” and “I Believe in Miracles.”
“He was extremely dedicated,” KEYC General Manager Dennis Wahlstrom said. By his estimation, Haefner in 36 years missed only one day of scheduled work.
Longtime KEYC Sports Director Perry Dyke said Haefner was a daily touchstone whose absence is already keenly felt.
“He was my director for 32 years, the first person I saw every day.”
Dyke said Haefner possessed a very private persona.
“When he got married, I didn’t even know about it until I read it in the paper.”
He said his friend also had a wicked wit that played out during Dyke’s first day on the job in 1980.
As Dyke tells it, he had just started his first-ever TV broadcast and was scared stiff when Haefner, off to the side on the set, began squeezing a whoopee cushion.
The realistic sounds of flatulence carried into viewers’ homes. When the station manager heard about the prank, he sent Haefner home for a day — that day being the aforesaid only day of work he ever missed.
Close friend Jack Votca, who graduated from Mankato Loyola High with Haefner in 1973, said Haefner had recently returned from a Grand Canyon hiking trip when he developed heart issues. He also learned he had diabetes.
Votca slipped into an “if only” tone:
“He hadn’t been to a doctor in 25 years.”
As the station’s main director, Haefner trained scores of young cohorts over the years. Dyke said they learned from a master craftsman.
“That control board was like part of his body.”