The County’s Clergyman: Delmar Dahl

When I arrive at Delmar Dahl’s apartment at Scandia Village in Sister Bay to interview him, three Scandia residents stand in the hallway, clamoring for a look at the dry-erase board on his door.

“9:15 Yoga,” reads the board. “10 Shopping. 11 Program/Art.”

Greeting cards and other mementos are also pinned on the door, which opens to reveal a smiling Delmar Dahl. He greets his fellow residents with enthusiasm.

“I come every day to look at the events of the day,” says Scandia resident Mildred Wallace. “I don’t know what we’d do without that every day.”

Keeping his fellow residents apprised of the daily schedule of events at Scandia Village is only one of the ways in which this retired minister stays connected to his community. In the two-dozen years Delmar has lived in Door County, he has cast a wide net of friendship and connection across the peninsula, earning a strong and ever-growing reputation for his friendly manner, easy sense of humor, and commitment to community service.

Former Scandia administrator Dave Boock says, “He has compassion and a desire to help and listen to everyone, regardless of religious affiliation, age, whatever. He is there for everybody. A very unique, good guy.”

Anyone who has met Delmar knows that he loves telling stories. I am among those who are deeply familiar with Delmar’s capacity for narrative:  he’s my grandfather. So in preparing for our interview, I expected stories to sidetrack us frequently. Sure enough, the stories began after my first question:  “When were you born?”

“October 1, 1927. I collected birthdays for years. Anywhere I’d go, I’d mention, ‘If you have a birthday on October 1, I’ll send you a card.’ I was up to 42 people with my same birthday.”

Like this one, most of Delmar’s stories center around the people he’s met and the relationships he’s developed with them. This affinity for networking seems a natural tendency for a career clergyman. Delmar spent four decades as a Baptist pastor in churches around the Midwest. From his native North Dakota, Delmar attended college and seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, then served churches in Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota and Michigan before moving to Sister Bay in 1990 to live in the childhood home of his wife, Barbara (Carlson) Dahl.

Delmar and Barbara enjoyed seven years of retirement in Door County – interspersed with interim pastorates both in and out of the area – before Barbara died in a car accident in 1997. Since then, Delmar has remained an integral part of the fabric of Door County life, doing both paid and volunteer work throughout the peninsula.

“Since I moved to Door County in 1990, I have had 24 ministries in 17 different places,” Delmar says, naming churches in North Dakota, British Columbia, the Great Lakes region and throughout Door County. Now, he regularly visits sick and dying people in hospitals in Sturgeon Bay and Green Bay. He has performed dozens of wedding ceremonies and memorial services and has served multiple times as the Scandia Village chaplain.

“I’ve been chaplain here three times,” Delmar chuckles. “Favre came back to the Packers three times, you know, and he got $16 million the last time.”

Though he’s no longer officially employed by Scandia Village, Delmar maintains a vibrant, outgoing presence as a resident there, keeping his whiteboard updated and bringing dozens of church bulletins back from First Baptist Church of Sister Bay for his fellow residents’ perusal.

“Delmar makes himself open to people,” says Donna DeNardo, senior living manager at Scandia Village. “He looks for opportunities for lively conversation, sprinkled with humor and concluded with a hug. He has a unique and uncanny ability of giving people what they need without them asking for it.”

Delmar engages with the Door County community in more casual capacities as well. He attends numerous Gibraltar High School athletic, dramatic and musical events and often stays in touch with Gibraltar students after graduation, sending them letters at college. 2002 Gibraltar graduate Emilie Coulson says Delmar serves as “a wise elder and often a surrogate grandfather” to Door County’s youth.

“In my time away from Door County,” Coulson says, “first at college and even now, Delmar has sent me notes and clippings from newspapers – each with a word of encouragement and a reminder of home.”

Delmar also maintains a lively mail and telephone correspondence with friends and acquaintances across the country (“700 telephone minutes a month!” he exclaims). And he regularly approaches strangers to introduce himself at restaurants and other public places around the peninsula.

“One year I had a project that every time I saw a car with a driver reading a map I’d just stop my car and go up to them and say, ‘Obviously you’re a tourist, and I’m a local. What do you want to know?’ And I’ve had many of them say, ‘Oh, thank you for helping us; thank you for telling me this.’”

It is personal connections like these that Delmar truly values in Door County.

“Some say, ‘Wherever there’s free food, he’ll probably be there!’” Delmar jokes. “But really, I like meeting the people. Becoming friends with them.”