I was saddened to hear recently of the loss of a great man, Dale Whitmore, President of Wardtown Cooperative in Freeport, Maine. Dale passed away peacefully, surrounded by friends and family, from complications from recent illnesses. When I reflect on my memories of Dale, the first thing that comes to my mind is the impact he made. Dale was popular and well respected by many people. He was someone who never saw a challenge or need that he did not go after with zest. Dale knew many people and had many friendships and connections. Dale made an enormous impact. I am certain there will be an enormous turnout at his services. Folks will come from near and far to pay respects to a man whom they knew and admired.
You see, Dale led his life to leave a positive personal legacy. Dale knew that what he had to offer his community was valuable in his lifetime, and perhaps he knew that it would be even more valuable when he was gone. Dale’s life will leave an imprint on most everyone he met and more so to those who knew him well. We can all take a lesson from Dale’s life, specifically a lesson in how to build community. Dale lived a commitment to his community and neighbors. Dale took action, whenever he could, to make his community a better place to live and thrive.
A legacy is something we leave behind to anyone who knows us. A legacy can be an inheritance; however, an inheritance usually dries up and in some cases, gets fought over. A personal legacy on the other hand is something that is embedded in the space that the person spent time in. If we want to leave something to those we leave behind, a personal legacy is what we should aim for. Our personal legacy can impact our loved ones, our friends, our workplace and our community.
I have built my career on empowering community leaders. I also try to remain teachable. I learned something important from Dale. Dale taught me that those things we do to engage with community are long lasting and important. Allow me to share some of those things that Dale did on a daily basis.
Knowing your neighbors– Dale knew everyone in his community. He knew every person who lived at Wardtown Cooperative and most of their extended family too. He knew what people did for a living and if neighbors were in need of community support. He knew when a neighbor was ill or had passed away and he even knew the names of most of the community member’s children.
Partner relationships- Dale knew how to connect with people. He knew that within every community and beyond, there are partners and people who share similar values and that these partnerships can be mutually beneficial. Dale knew every person on every municipal board in his town and served on many. He knew every person who worked in and to support the town and what role they played. He knew every local political and state official and what their support could mean to the community. He was humble about this, but always took time to advocate for low-income and deserving individuals and families.
Concern for Community- Dale loved everything about Wardtown Cooperative. He knew every system that Wardtown owned; water, sewer, electrical and right down to the number of potholes there were. He was constantly thinking of ways to improve systems and people. He never missed an opportunity to reach out to everyone when he saw a need and worked to engage others to take part in improvements. Dale knew that the community had to be cared for, both in the short term and long term. Dale helped make many projects come together at Wardtown, and also took great pride in making sure that they were operating well.
Pride in Homeownership and ROC- Dale loved his home and understood and was verbal about the importance of affordable and dignified home ownership. Dale also loved the Resident Owned Cooperative (ROC) movement. When I first met Dale, he was as excited as a kid in a toy store, explaining to me all of the values and principles of ROCs. He connected with other ROC leaders often, not just in the State of Maine, but throughout the country. Dale was known for telling people every day, “we are better together.” He knew the value of resident ownership along with the benefits of developing strong leaders, support systems and partners. He knew more than most, that by doing so, great community would ensue. He was always looking for resources for homeowners and when he found them, he made sure everyone knew about them. He wanted to make sure that all who needed to know about these partnerships were able to receive that information. He genuinely cared for people.
These actions came naturally to Dale but he was also very good at these things. That is because he practiced and developed these things over the years. His actions and practice built his life legacy. I cannot help but wonder what my legacy might be like when I am gone? I also wonder what might happen if we all thought to practice the actions mentioned above? Would our communities strengthen? Would more people know about what is going on and want to help when needed? The answer is likely yes. Stronger community happen when we gain supporters and friends; simply by recalling and practicing those action steps Dale took. If we committed to even one or two of the actions, we would likely build stronger communities and truly “be better together.” If the result is this practice also provides us with a legacy our friends and families would be proud of, that’s cool too!
Thanks for the lasting lessons, Dale. Rest easy in heaven, you have earned it.