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John J. Dostal

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BENNINGTON -- His love for his adopted hometown of Bennington was nearly limitless but finally his heart couldn’t keep up, and John J. Dostal died at his home on Jefferson Avenue on March 23, 2007. He was 98.

Moving to Bennington in 1980, after retiring as a marketing division manager at RCA and several personal business ventures, he rapidly immersed himself in the civic fabric of the town, beginning as a volunteer for Project SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) aimed at advising fledgling businesses. He soon had the largest caseload in the state.

From there his voluntary efforts extended to Bennington’s library and to its museum. He was a member of the board of CATV and a president of the Bennington Historical Society.

But after attending the Shelburne Museum’s Lilac Sunday in 1995 he reckoned that a profusion of lilacs in Bennington could be a similar attraction. He began a decade-long project of planting some 500 lilacs around the town, paying for them himself and enlisting Bernard Bourgeois to help with the heavy lifting and spadework.

A similar inspiration about the appeal of Bennington’s covered bridges and the history and construction of covered bridges led him to collaborate with Bruce and Elizabeth Laumeister, founder of the Bennington Center for the Arts, where Dostal had also planted lilacs, on establishing it as the site for the world’s first covered bridge museum.

John Dostal was born in Maquoketa, Iowa, where he led a typical farmboy existence, milking cows before walking to school, a routine that he credited to subsequent success in high school football and track. He drifted east during the Great Depression, selling everything from shirts to school equipment, eventually relocating in Long Island, N.Y., and marrying Lillian Foster, who predeceased him in 1990.

Established in the sound recording business, he enlisted in the Army in 1942 at age 34, emerging four years later as a captain in the Signal Corps, doing operations that he would long describe only as “confidential.”

He is survived by a son, John M. Dostal of Morristown.

Contributions in his memory and to the nurturing of his lilacs can be made through the Town of Bennington to the recently established John J. Dostal Lilac Trail. A gathering to celebrate his spirit and his work will be held at the Bennington Center for the Arts on Saturday, June 2, 2007, at 11 a.m.

Information provided by the funeral home.
Published in Bennington Banner on May 17, 2007
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