Chapel Hill, NC
Monument to courage and fortitude
Countless people have drawn knowledge and inspiration from books in the library at 11 Shenango Avenue, Sharon, , PA, since its doors opened on December 10, 1971. But few of the library’s patrons know that the building itself should serve as an inspiration. It stands as a monument to the courage and fortitude of its architect, Dale E. Redfoot.
Dale grew up in Mercer, getting his education in a one-room school and Mercer High School. In high school he was such a great basketball and football player that he has been inducted into the Mercer County Sports Hall of Fame. One of his proudest moments was when his Mercer basketball squad beat Chuck Daley’s team. Chuck later became coach of the Detroit Pistons.
Dale was a Sophomore when he met a Junior named Patricia King.
“He was a big strapping football and basketball player, an idol, really,” Pat said. “He asked me to go to a dance. Then he broke his leg playing football, and he had to go to the dance in a cast. But that was okay. He had an old truck at the time and he was driving around with his leg out the window. He was a fun guy and very intelligent”
After Pat graduated in 1949, she went to nurse’s training at Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh. Dale graduated a year later with plans to go to Penn State to become a football coach. But the next September he was struck down with polio. He spent eight months in Sharon Hospital.
“He had a wonderful nurse named Gloria Donnelly,” Pat said, “and he had a really good physical therapist. She told Dale that he could never work outside. Her husband had passed away, so she gave Dale her husband’s drafting equipment. Dale decided he would be an architect.”
Dale was concerned about being a burden to Pat.
“He told me to date someone else and forget him. My dad and my older sister tried to talk me out of marrying him. I said that I love him and I’m going to marry him.”
Dale enrolled at Carnegie Tech. In those days before handicap access, he had to figure out the best way to get from one area of the campus to another – his own little trail that avoided steps and hills. He had to walk on crutches from one class to another, carrying his books, even on the snow and ice of the infamous Pittsburgh winters.
After two years at Carnegie Tech, Dale became ill again. so he moved back to Mercer and started working with Walter Mallorie Associates in Sharon. He married Pat, and they started their family. Their first daughter Linda was born in late 1953, followed by Ken (1955), Marcia (1959), and Brad (1962).
Dale worked as an apprentice with Mallorie and completed his degree in architecture by studying nights at Youngstown State University. After 13 years with Mallory, he partnered with Bob Brooks to start a new architectural firm, Brooks and Redfoot. They designed the solar medical building on the Shenango Valley Freeway, St. John’s Lutheran Church on Mercer Greenville Road, the Buhl-Henderson Library, schools, churches, and many other buildings.
“I don’t want to sound corny,” said his daughter Marcia, “but my father was probably one of the greatest men you could ever meet. He turned something that could have been very devastating in his life into something that was very rewarding. He went on to become an absolute pillar of the community in Sharpsville where everybody knew him. He was just warm, he loved to talk to people, he loved to joke, he loved to be a smart aleck.”
“We had a good life,” Pat said. “We built a house in Sharpsville with a swimming pool in the back yard. Our kids would bring a lot of their friends to our house.”
The pool was great fun for their kids and their friends, but it was more than that for Dale.
“That was great therapy for him,” Marcia said. “He couldn’t use his legs, but he could be out there in the pool. He had great upper body strength because that’s what he needed in order to get around.”
Most of his life, Dale walked with leg braces and crutches. His caregivers encouraged him to get as much exercise as possible. That changed after he went to the Roosevelt Institution for Rehabilitation in Warm Springs, Georgia.
“I think FDR was his hero,” Pat said, “so Dale got checked out by a physical therapist there. She told him he would have a lot of disability in his arms if he keep walking on crutches. So the last ten years or so of his life he started using a power chair. He had the house all fixed with the ramps and wide doorways so he could get through with his cart, and lower kitchen counters so he could reach stuff.”
“We would go to places like Pirate games where they didn’t have good handicap parking,” Marcia said. “He would get upset but he’d always find a way. He and Mom loved to travel. He went to Greece and he had to go up a million steps. I wish I had half the strength and determination he had.”
Dale’s sense of humor carried him through his life. Marcia remembered one story about him driving his electric cart onto the beach and getting stuck in the sand.
“This gentleman comes along,” Marcia said, “and Dad asked him to help. The guy pushed and pulled, and he said to Dad, ‘Sir, if you could stand up I could move this.’ My dad said. ‘If I could stand up I wouldn’t be in this situation.’ Then the man said something about how heavy he was. So Dad says, ‘Not only did he ask me to stand up, he insulted me, too.’ And he laughed and laughed about it.”
Once Dale had a carcinoma on his shoulder.
“Of course we were very scared about it,” Marcia said. “They removed it, and they said as soon as he woke up in the recovery room he was laughing and telling stories and everybody in the room was laughing. That’s how he chose to live his life.”
Dale was an inspiration to everyone who knew him – not only because of what they saw in him, but also because of what he saw in them. Marcia’s husband Kevin says that it was Dale who gave him the determination to get through medical school.
“During my first semester I was pretty sure I couldn’t do it. It was just too hard. At Thanksgiving break I announced to everybody I was quitting. Everybody said that’s okay with us. Everybody except for Dale. He said, ‘I know it’s hard, everybody who goes through it thinks the same thing. I think you should tough it out and get through. Some day you’ll be very glad you did.’ I thought to myself, if he’s got the intestinal fortitude, the courage to overcome all of his obstacles, and I’m able-bodied, then I ought to get off my butt and get back to school. If it wasn’t for those words I wouldn’t have made it through.”
That didn’t make Kevin immune to Dale’s lighthearted jibes.
“Dale would take me down a notch or two every once in a while. He’d say, ‘Yeah, I had some guys in architecture school who dropped out because it was too hard. So they went to medical school.’”
Dale was great with his own kids and his grandchildren.
“When my kids were little,” Marcia said, “he couldn’t get up and chase them like most grandpas can, but he would sit in the chair and tell the kids ‘I’m going to get you,’ and they would run around and laugh. He would say, ‘I don’t want one peep out of you, and they would go ‘peep, peep, peep.’ He loved to hear about the things they were involved in. He was there for every concert, every football game that he possibly could get to.”
In 1984, Dale and Pat moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
“The cold weather was getting to him,” Pat said. “He was supposedly retiring, but there was so much construction down there that he started a development business with my younger son. He had his office in our house. They developed a lot of bedroom communities in Chapel Hill.”
Dale retired just two years before he passed away in May, 2006.
“He was bedridden for about the last year and a half.” Pat said. “At the end of his life he had four caregivers that we just dearly loved. They took such good care of him.”
Of course his best caregiver was the one he had beside him for nearly 60 years.
“One of the other parts of the story that Mom probably didn’t tell you,” Marcia said, “was that she was a huge part in the whole thing. That can’t be an easy life to marry somebody that’s physically handicapped and to provide him with the support he needed for so many years. She did the main things that I don’t think most wives would ever do.”
So the next time you go to the Community Library of the Shenango Valley, remember the man who designed it, and think about the words of his son-in-law. If Dale Redfoot had the intestinal fortitude to succeed in the face of his obstacles, surely we able-bodied people should be able to succeed in the face of our own personal challenges.
Excerpted from Lives of Quiet Inspiration, Volume 3, by Joe Zentis. Hermitage, PA: Green Street Press, 2009