NORTHFIELD - The Rev. J. Stanley Dahlman died peacefully at his home in Northfield on June 4, surrounded by his family.
Stanley was born in Greeley, Colo., on Dec. 31, 1919, the son of John and Minnie Dahlman. He attended schools in Greeley and Denver, graduated from North Park College and completed graduate work at Andover Newton Theological School and Boston University.
Stanley married Lucille Jacobson, who predeceased him in 2010, after 66 years of marriage. Stanley was also predeceased by his son, Karl, and his sisters, Alice and Florence.
He is survived by his children, Kirsten Durbin and husband Jerry; his daughter, Mary Johnson and husband Dave, and his son, Eric. He is also survived by his cherished grandchildren, Andrea Arnold and her husband Monty who lovingly provided his care for 2½ years, Ben Johnson and his fiancée Kim Salley, Alexandra Canil Durbin and her husband Edwin, Adrian Durbin and his wife Claudia, and Will Durbin; great-grandchildren, Graciela, Kayalá and Spencer, and his niece, Gaylene Hawkins. Michelle Tacy, loyal and loving caregiver, is counted among his survivors.
Stanley served as minister of the Covenant Congregational churches of Waltham, MA, and Cleveland, OH; the Congregational churches of Chester and Auburn, NH; the United Church of Christ in Norton, MA, and Winchester, NH; First Church of Deerfield, MA, and the United Church of Christ in New Salem, MA.
Stanley was a champion of social justice. In 1948, before the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing, he defended the right of the Alvarez family to become members of his church when the white leadership refused to admit them. In response to this injustice, he resigned as minister of that church. While traveling in Virginia with his young family, he refused to stand in a whites-only line at a tourist spot. Later he brought his youth group to a Boston demonstration led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In 1964, Stanley defended his son Karl against an angry crowd at a School Committee meeting where claims were made that his "long" hair, which skimmed the top of his ears, distracted students from learning. In 1967, Stanley read the names of fallen Vietnam veterans on Memorial Day on the town common amid officials' protest.
Stanley preached sermons about justice, the beauty all around us, and especially of wonder. Wonder in finding one Christmas season, a nest entwined with tinsel and a scrap from a page of music. Wonder in the abundant good found in ordinary people. Wonder in the story of 12 hungry cats who spared their pigeon housemate. Wonder in the beauty of a Bach prelude, an e.e. cummings poem, or a work of art by Picasso, Miró or a great- grandchild. His sermons inspired many to wonder and to ponder.
Stanley was an artist, primarily a self-taught collagist who handcrafted many cards, as well as larger pieces, including a wall sculpture inspired by Louise Nevelson's work. He was a creative cook, elevating ordinary ingredients to something special with a dash of cardamom, extra butter or cream and almost always a spoon or more of sugar. He created stunning flower arrangements often including humble roadside "weeds" which became sublime under his hand. He enjoyed creating compositions of objects throughout his home and in his churches. His wife Lucille once said, "Everything Stanley touches becomes beautiful."
Stanley loved gardening. Each January, he pored over seed catalogs to choose the sweetest pea, corn, parsnip and squash, and flowers which he used as his palette to paint a beautiful landscape throughout the growing season. His vegetables were indeed sweet and delicious, but he favored flowers and used them liberally to decorate his home, his churches' altars and to bring to those in need of a blessing. On several occasions, he placed towering sunflowers in pews to the delight of his parishioners.
Stanley always had a stack of books and periodicals at hand. He often read aloud at the dinner table poems or selections from his favorite writers including Anne Lamott, E.B. White, Mary Oliver, May Sarton and Robert Frost. Stanley didn't speak out often in conversations, but as one book group member said, "When Stan speaks it is always worth listening."
Stanley's wry sense of humor remained intact until he could no longer speak during his last three days. At one of his last visits to the doctor, a nurse had great difficulty finding his pulse and blood pressure. When she had tried both arms she began to look distressed. Stanley very calmly looked at her and said, "Dead on arrival."
For his son Karl's funeral, Stanley created an elegant milkweed arrangement and his handwritten message:
Fragile as the wings of milkweed seeds.
Enduring as the seeds of milkweed wings!
A memorial service will be held at the First Church of Deerfield on June 13 at 11 a.m. Those who attend are asked to bring a few garden flowers to make communal bouquets at the church. Contributions in memory of Stanley may be given to The First Church of Deerfield, 71 Old Main St., Deerfield, MA 01342.
Published in The Recorder on Jun. 7, 2013.