PUBLISHED: 2:54 PM on Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Juneau resident dies while serving others

  Tom Dahl
When Tom Dahl traveled to Mississippi in March with a group of church volunteers to help the community rebuild after last year's hurricane, he was doing that for which he was best known-taking action to change things for the better. And though a construction accident claimed Dahl's life on the trip, he leaves behind a legacy of public work that stretches far beyond the borders of Alaska.

"Tom's motto was 'Think Mission,'" said K.J. Metcalf, who had been friends with the retired Methodist minister since 1966. "One of the things that impressed me most about him was his willingness to speak the truth, and to say, 'this is wrong-we've got to change things.' He always looked at what we could do in the world to make it better."

Dahl, 67, was doing just that on the trip to Moss Point, Mississippi, where he and 15 volunteers from United Methodist churches throughout Southeast were helping families repair and rebuild their homes. While handing construction materials up to a roof where crews were working, Dahl's ladder failed, and he fell to the concrete below. Though he was in surgery within 30 minutes of the fall, Dahl passed away two days later on March 30, 2006.

In addition to leaving behind his wife of more than 45 years, three children and three grandchildren, Dahl also leaves behind a lasting imprint on the Alaskan community.

"Tom was always a man of big ideas and vision," said Dan Wanders, pastor of Aldersgate United Methodist Church, where Dahl served as pastor for four years before retiring. "It was his idea to hold a mission to try to help a church in Fairbanks, and he also came up with a way to all but pay off the mortgage on our building before he retired. He traveled to Mexico and to Unalaska on mission trips, and he was also active in the church on a local, state and national level.

"He was a marvelous predecessor for me at Aldersgate as well. After he retired, I asked him to stay on as a member of our church, and he agreed. He was just an incredible asset-he would often come by to see how things were going."

Dahl, who received his Master of Divinity from Wesley Theological Seminary in 1964, served as a pastor in Homer, Anchor Point and Seldovia, as well as served as the pastor of the Juneau Methodist Church in the 1960s. It was his ability to inspire others, according to friend Don Gotschall, that made him such a force when it came to helping those less fortunate.

"He was very honest, genuine and compassionate, and he had a passion for helping those who couldn't help themselves," Gotschall said. "He was highly competent and inspiring, and he was a great salesperson-he could sell you anything. There was a whole bunch of us who would follow Tom anywhere."

In addition to all of his religious work, Dahl was known for his work as a lawyer, who had his own private practice in Anchorage for 14 years before returning to work as an assistant attorney general in Juneau in 1994. He will also be remembered for all of his contributions to Juneau's development in the 1960s, when he served as Model Cities Director.

"During his time as Model Cities Director, Tom helped establish the transit system in Juneau, as well as a home for teenagers," Gotschall said. "He also established a daycare center, which was pretty innovative at the time, so that single parents could go to work."

Dahl also served as a board member and president of many organizations including Fireweed Place, the United Methodist Church's Commission on the Status and Role of Women, and the General Board of Global Ministries. He served as Chancellor of the Alaska Missionary Conference, and spent numerous hours volunteering at the Eagle River Methodist Camp, doing everything from fundraising to construction.

"Tom was extremely concerned about peace and justice issues in our community and in the world at large," Metcalf said. "I remember him giving an incredible prayer at the peace gathering at Marine Park a year ago, which marked year three of the Iraqi war. He was so upset about the war, and worked tirelessly to promote peace and justice."

Dahl also worked to promote lifelong friendships, which he obviously did to much success.

"Tom was such a big personality-he had such an impact on so many people," said Wanders, who added that he has received condolence calls from people living as far away as Bolivia who have heard about Dahl's death.

"I will miss him terribly," Metcalf said. "He was incredibly bright, and once he met someone, he never forgot their name. He always looked at the positive things a person had to contribute. He loved his family and his grandchildren, and he always found the joy in life."

Gotschall said Dahl will be remembered for many things.

"He was so many things-a good organizer, a very competent attorney, and a genuine, compassionate person. And he loved to help people. These are all qualities for which he'll be remembered," Gotschall said.