Don Whisenhunt could fix almost anything, and Tangent-area residents would welcome the sight of his brown Ford pickup bouncing up their gravel driveways, even if it was just for a friendly talk.
“If you knew Don and needed help, Don would show up. And sometimes he would show up without being asked,” said his cousin, former Linn County Sheriff Tim Mueller.
Harry Stalford, his neighbor and friend for more than 40 years, said Whisenhunt had a generous spirit.
“You know where Mill City’s at? If you were way up there and your car broke down, you called Don and he’d drop what he was doing and go up there and save you,” Stalford said.
As was his nature, Whisenhunt was trying to help a relative in recent months. The farm mechanic gave Chad Cheever, the nephew of his ex-wife, a place to stay on his rural property off McLagan Road, Mueller and Stalford said. Cheever had bounced in and out of jail and prison and had nowhere else to go, they said.
“That’s what Don did best. He helped everybody around him. It cost him his life this time,” Stalford said, and sighed heavily. “Oh, man.”
Whisenhunt, 60, allegedly died due to massive injuries caused by a physical confrontation the night of Sept. 20 with Cheever, who left his uncle unconscious outside on his property, according to court documents.
Cheever, 45, has been charged with first-degree manslaughter and second-degree assault in Linn County Circuit Court.
He was arrested by authorities at a Salem homeless shelter.
“I really think that if Don would have had to do it all over again, he would have done the same thing. He gave everybody the benefit of the doubt,” Stalford said.
Whisenhunt was straightforward but easygoing, and his death was a total shock to those in Tangent and nearby communities such as Shedd and Brownsville, Stalford and Mueller said.
“It just ripped this community apart. Everybody is torn up about it. … I never thought I’d have to have this conversation,” Stalford said.
Mueller said that Whisenhunt didn’t have time for many hobbies due to his job, though he played guitar. But his main activity outside of farm-related work was enjoying time with his family, especially his grandchildren.
Whisenhunt had four children, numerous grandchildren and plenty of other relatives in the area.
The impact of his death was felt well outside Tangent.
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Before he teamed up with his son Mark Whisenhunt and became independent contractors with a mobile shop, Don Whisenhunt was Stalford’s lead mechanic and right-hand man for years.
As such, he worked with teens and college students doing seasonal farm labor for Stalford, and he taught some of the youngsters basic mechanical skills. “He was a mentor for these kids that came out, and all of them had farm backgrounds. He was easygoing and patient with everybody,” Mueller said.
“Everybody thought the world of him,” Stalford said.
Mueller said that Whisenhunt himself was self-taught to a large degree, and the Central Linn High School graduate could learn by watching an expert fix equipment. He could do electric work, tune up engines, put in transmissions, fix air-conditioning systems and more.
“He was just a good guy. With Don, there was no hidden agenda. What you see is what you get. A very honest man. I’m going to miss that guy,” Mueller said.
“He never met a stranger. That guy, he could visit with anybody,” he added.
A celebration of life for Whisenhunt is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at the McLagan Shop, just north of the intersection of McLagan Drive and Seward Drive.
Cheever appeared in Linn County Circuit Court for a brief status check hearing on Monday morning, and waived his right to a trial within 60 days of his arrest.
The next hearing in the manslaughter case was scheduled for Nov. 20.
Cheever has a lengthy criminal history, including an attack where he struck another man in the head with a hatchet in West Virginia in 2009.
Court records from that case weren’t available, but according to NCWV Media’s the Exponent Telegram, the victim suffered a skull fracture and required surgery and a craniotomy.
Cheever served five years in prison, the Exponent Telegram states.
In 2010, Cheever also was charged in Ohio with second-degree robbery and felony fourth-degree aggravated assault. He pleaded guilty to the assault charge and was sentenced to 17 months in prison, to be served concurrently with the West Virginia hatchet case, according to Ohio’s online court database.
A 2014 robbery case in West Virginia was dismissed because the victim, who was living in a homeless shelter, returned to the Miami, Florida area and could not be located, said James Armstrong, assistant prosecuting attorney for Harrison County.
“He was alleged to have beaten somebody up and taken $100,” added Armstrong, who had been assigned to the case.
(The 2009 hatchet case was handled by a different prosecutor no longer in Harrison County.)
In 1994 in Benton County, Cheever, then a Corvallis resident, pleaded guilty to a charge of second-degree burglary for a break-in at Anderson’s Sporting Goods downtown and was sentenced to 18 months probation. Another second-degree burglary case from Benton County was dismissed.
Kyle Odegard can be reached at email@example.com, 541-812-6077 or via Twitter @KyleOdegard.