John Dale, In Memoriam

John Dale leading one of the 2019 ACX Conference Community Design Charrrettes, in which participants worked together to come up with design solutions for problems faced by Vermont communities. John's team focused on the design of a Tiny House Village, intended to provide affordable housing for residents of Addison County.

By Andrew Schlatter, AIA

AIAVT and Vermont’s entire architectural community were deeply saddened by the unexpected passing of John Dale on January 8th.  After serving on the AIVT Board for several years-- including as Secretary and then Vice President over the past two years-- John was excited to lead the organization as President through 2020.  His commitment to the organization and his positive, team approach to leadership were evident in his Incoming President’s Notes for the 2019 AIAVT Annual Report, in which he encouraged everyone to get involved:  

“As a relative newcomer to Vermont [9 years], I am still struck by the quality, depth, and breadth of creative work produced by the people and firms in the Vermont architectural community.   I have also been struck by the collaborative spirit of our members as I observe them pitching in on projects, ideas, and issues big and small. As we turn our view towards the challenges and opportunities of what promises to be a busy year ahead, we hope our members and colleagues will respond and participate with their typical enthusiasm.”

John and his family moved to Middlebury in 2011, where John worked as a Senior Architect at Bread Loaf Corporation, managing such projects as the renovation and redesign of the UVM Alumni House, the town offices of Middlebury, Vermont History Center, Vermont Academy, and Northfield Mount Herman. John was deeply involved in so many things: in his profession, his community, and his family.  Even while John served as Vice President of AIAVT in 2019, he was simultaneously President of United Way of Addison County and volunteered with Meals on Wheels. John touched many people through his work, his volunteerism, and his friendship; his loss will leave a hole in many of our lives. 

We wanted to take a moment to remember John in the words of some of the friends, family, colleagues and clients whose lives he touched.  

A native New Englander, John grew up in coastal Scituate, Massachusetts, where his love of the outdoors and his passion for learning were evident at a young age.  His sister Amy shared a few memories of John from their childhood:

 “John’s first job was raking moss off the cliffs of Scituate at low tide.  Depending on the tide, John would be dropped by our Mother at Scituate Harbor, sometimes as early as 3 a.m.,  to row out along the shore in his wooden dory with a heavy, 14-ft metal rake, to harvest Irish Sea Moss----a grueling physical endeavor, especially for a 13-yr-old.  He would row back to the Harbor and unload the moss, for which he was paid only 3 cents per pound. However, John rarely complained. He was outdoors and he got paid for it!

Reading was another love of John’s, even at a young age.  One of our favorite ‘John stories’ occurred when he was about 10.  John started taking incredibly long showers; using up all the hot water, night after night. 

 One night, our Mother lost it and demanded to know how he could take such long showers.  John calmly replied, “I read in the shower.” We all looked at him like he was crazy. My mom said: ”How do you do that???” John looked at her in disbelief that everyone doesn’t do this and he said: ”I aim the shower to hit my head and back, then I sit down in the tub and hold my book out in front of me so my book doesn’t get wet while I sit and read.”

John attended Middlebury College, earning a B.A. in Art History in 1980, followed by his M.Arch from the University of Virginia.   John began his architectural career in the Washington D.C. area, working first at Hartman-Cox, then moving on to the firm of Allan Greenberg Architect, where he worked for 16 years as the Senior Director.  John had a reputation as a gifted problem solver, collaborator, mentor, and steady leader, which Allan Greenberg remembers:

“He was so quiet when he started work at AGA. Every morning he slipped quietly into the office and left the same way in the evening. He clearly had a vast knowledge base, and confidentially answered all the questions brought to him by the younger architects in the office.  However, I wondered whether he had been sufficiently challenged in the offices where he worked before he joined us.”

Noting this, Greenberg decided to place John in charge of a large and important retail commission for a high-profile client.  The project had many complexities, which John navigated with his characteristic calm and grace. Greenberg recounts: 

“As this project developed, it was beset by multiple problems caused by differences of opinion between [the client] and one of his partners. Reflecting on the history of this project I can truthfully say that every time I took John’s advice the project flourished. Every time I ignored his advice, I just created more and more problems. John was a treasure. He was blessed with deep reserves of tact and wisdom.”

At Bread Loaf Corporation, John managed a wide range of complex projects, forging strong connections with clients as he led them through the design process and construction.  Paul Wyncoop, John’s friend and colleague at Bread Loaf, remembers John’s way of working through a design problem on a recent project:

“One of the first times I realized that John was special was during the early phases of the UVM Alumni House restoration project.  At the outset, our job was to restore a lovely Victorian mansion in Burlington, yet make it code compliant and change the use of the building. In order to do this, we had to figure out how to work an elevator into the facility. Earlier schemes had shown a tower on the back of the building, and this was a logical model, considering the desire to preserve the interiors, which were full of fireplaces, fine woodwork, marble, and coffered ceilings. John and I spent the entire afternoon, into the evening, going through the building, walking the perimeter, scratching our heads trying to come up with better ideas. We didn’t that day. But both of us continued to think on it and to discuss options. Eventually, I suggested we reuse the former kitchen to create a shaft from top to bottom of the building. At first, John didn’t embrace the idea. But he didn’t dismiss it. A couple of days later he came back to me with a sketch of an elegant solution that rearranged utilities and circulation space to fit an elevator shaft and stairwell within the original building. The two of us discussed it further and figured out how we would pitch this idea to the client and the preservation community.  John did a fabulous job of making the case that this solution would be far better than an exterior tower. By calmly and smoothly explaining the benefits of this design, John won over the client quickly. He took a complex problem, explained his perspective, and developed an exquisitely simple solution, which most people will never notice. But you definitely would have noticed if it had been done the other way.” 

Alan Ryea, Vice President for Alumni Relations at UVM and a client of John’s on the UVM Alumni House project remembers John’s leadership on this project:

“I had the pleasure of working with John on the UVM Alumni House project and what started as a professional relationship quickly evolved into a personal friendship that I will cherish forever.   John was a consummate professional and I learned so much from him about historic preservation and the architectural design process. I had zero construction experience or qualifications to be a decision-maker for such a signature historic renovation project.  Despite that, John always took the time to listen to my ideas and had a unique way of making me feel comfortable – even if he thought my ideas were off-the-wall crazy. His ability to ‘gently mentor’ is one of John’s qualities that I admired the most. That and his enduring patience!

The University is very fortunate to have had John’s leadership with our award-winning renovation of the UVM Alumni House.  Quite simply, he provided a vision and direction for our project that gave the University a home for alumni that is second to none.   I will miss his wry smile and dry sense of humor and his uncanny ability to keep J.J. [John Johnston, Breadloaf’s VP of MEP Services] on his toes.  John was taken from us far too soon, but his impact will live on in our house and hearts for years to come.”

Recently, John served as lead architect for a new Municipal Feasibility Study for the Town of Enfield, New Hampshire.   In the process of developing concepts and budgets for a new public safety building and a renovated library/town office space, John worked closely with the town building committee, as well as the police chief, town manager, and library trustees.   Many of the individuals John worked with in Enfield wrote to express their appreciation for John as an architect and as a person.  

Dominic Albanese of the Enfield Public Library Trustees (Enfield, NH) wrote:  

“John’s calm, solution-based approach was the perfect style at the right time.  He focused on needs, didn’t have an agenda, and genuinely wanted to improve our facilities.  Not surprisingly, this building project has experienced the normal challenges that any town building project encounters.  There was a sigh of relief after our first encounter with John and real enthusiasm after the second because it was so obvious that he was going to help us find the proper path forward in a collaborative, efficient and thoughtful manner.”

Ryan Alylesworth, Town Manager of Enfield, remembers John’s dedication to the project as well as his unique talent for communicating about design ideas on this public project:

“John’s invaluable expertise, creativity, humility, thoughtfulness, and overall consummate professionalism were always on display.  He showed dedication to the project in many ways, including driving through inclement weather to attend the meetings and never rushing through the details he presented to local officials.  John always presented information in very understandable terms for members of the community that did not have experience with these types of projects. John’s commitment to his work was clear, and his work on the project is greatly appreciated.  His contributions will not be forgotten.”

These are just small sampling of the many remembrances that were shared about John at the time of his passing.  Even from these brief notes and appreciations, it is clear that John touched many lives through his thoughtfulness, creativity, generosity, and kindness.  He will be missed.  

Donations in John’s memory can be made to the AIA Vermont Scholarship Fund, the United Way of Addison County, or to the Middlebury Area Land Trust.