Dennis C. Melton, architect, musician, community leader, 1947-202105/11/2021 04:05PM ● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
The Kennett Square community has lost one of its most significant visionaries, trailblazers and leaders.
Dennis C. Melton, an architect, musician and one of the founding members of The Kennett Flash, died on May 5 at the age of 73, due to a recent brain aneurysm.
Born in Winchester, Va. on June 2, 1947 to parents Howard and Marion, Melton served the local community in his capacity as the principal at Melton Architects, which he began in 1993. During his career as an architect, he was responsible for the design or reservation behind many iconic landmarks in Kennett Square, including the Anson Nixon Park Performance Pavilion, the Country Butcher, Philter Coffee, and the restoration of the historic Chalfonte House. At the time of his death Dennis was the local architect of record for the new Kennett Library & Resource Center, a 29,257-square-foot building that will begin construction this summer.
“Dennis will be sorely missed,” said Jeff Yetter, president of the Kennett Library Board of Trustees. “He truly loved Kennett and helped to shape the Kennett Square that exists today.”
In addition to his work as an architect, Melton served the Kennett community in several leadership roles. He was the President of the Southern Chester County Chamber of Commerce in 2006 and was a member of the Legislative Committee and the Route 1 Corridor Initiative.
With his guitar, introspective original songs and his signature hats, Melton was also one of the region’s most prominent musicians, pairing with his twin brother Dale as The Melton Brothers Band, the band Crossroads with his son Michael and in collaboration with dozens of other musicians, many of whom both performed and recorded with Melton.
Along with Lee Zagorski, Melton was one of the key founders of The Kennett Flash in 2009 and served as its president until 2019. When Zagorski met with then Historic Kennett Square Director Mary Hutchins with the idea to create a live music venue in the borough, Hutchins contacted Melton, who helped secure a $25,000 donation. It quickly led to a follow-up contribution of $50,000 from the Longwood Foundation that helped fund the construction of the venue – which Melton also designed. He also founded and chaired the Summer Park Concert Series at Anson Nixon Park for its 14-year run.
When Andrew Miller was hired six years ago as the general manager of The Kennett Flash, he looked to Melton for guidance on what kind of musical acts to book at the popular venue.
“He quickly told me, ‘That’s why we hired you, figure it out,’” Miller said. “I realized I wasn't going to have my hand held or have someone micro-managing my work. It was up to me to make the decisions and policies for the day to day at The Flash. With time, it felt so liberating and less and less scary. I was able to do what I did best because of Dennis.
“Dennis’s impact on me was personal,” Miller added. “It was one on one. Dennis impacted me as a friend and a mentor. He taught me a lot about philanthropy and arts giving. My biggest growth while at The Flash has been learning grant writing, talking with donors and talking with foundations. Dennis helped me a ton with all of that. Dennis gave me tons of confidence in myself. Dennis was The Flash, and in my opinion if you asked anyone behind the scenes in Kennett they would think of Dennis first when it came to The Flash.
“I might be the public face of The Flash to the concertgoer, but to all the community leaders in Kennett -- Dennis will always be the face of The Flash.”
Melton was also a founding member of the MLK Breakfast Committee and remained on the program committee for the annual MLK CommUNITY Breakfast event for more than 14 years. He was also a musical presence at the event, performing alongside former Kennett Square Mayor Leon Spencer and long-time colleague Joan Holliday, whose more than 20-year friendship with Melton, she recently wrote, is “now living on in my heart and the broader community.”
Holliday wrote that her friendship with Melton – whom she quickly
learned shared the same Gemini birth sign with her -- also intersected with
their involvement with the Kennett Community Choir that often paired their
voices together during Christmas caroling on the streets of Kennett Square.
“Dennis brought an easy and steady ‘We can do this’ attitude to everything he engaged,” Holliday wrote. “I appreciated our ‘twin’ meetings exploring visions and practical ideas of how to build the Kennett area community. We had a couple of nice runs with Inter-generational Community Living and enhancing the arts presence in town. There is no doubt that his many architectural and musical contributions will live on, but even more, his good will and love for each and all are eternal.”
“It feels like the entire Kennett community has a collective broken heart after hearing the news about Dennis Melton,” Hutchins added. “We wonder how to fill the hole he left. Dennis’ fingerprints are on so many of the Kennett programs that make the area so special, such as the MLK CommUnity Breakfast, the Kennett Flash, the Anson Nixon Park stage, Christmas caroling and the list goes on.
“We may not see Dennis walking through the downtown in his straw hat but we will always sense his presence.”
For Kennett Square Mayor Matt Fetick, his connection with Melton began soon after he was first elected to his post.
“When I first became Mayor he reached out to have coffee with me and share his thoughts about our community and some great background,” Fetick said. “He was always positive, willing to help, and generous. He loved to sing at the MLK Community Breakfast and to lead Christmas Carols at the Christmas parade. He cared about history and architecture, and his creative talent can be seen in buildings all over our town.
“Dennis was a true treasure who will be greatly missed.”
Melton is survived by his wife Donna Hicks Melton, to whom he was happily married for 37 years; his son, Michael Melton; his brothers Dale (Joan Bristol) and Howard, Jr. (Susan); his niece, Charlotte Melton, and his grandnephew, Mason Lee Melton.
“While we are reeling from this shocking loss, our family agrees that in the last year of his life Dennis had truly reached a place of peace,” a recently-issued statement from the Melton family read. “Knowing that has been an incredible source of grace and solace for our family during these past heartbreaking days.
“We are in the process of planning ways to celebrate Dennis’ remarkable life and legacy and we look forward to inviting you to share that celebration with us in the months to come.”
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations in Melton’s memory to The Kennett Flash, 102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, Pa. 19348 or online at https://www.kennettflash.org/
Funeral arrangements are being made by Matthew Grieco of Grieco Funeral Home & Crematory, Inc. (1800-FUNERAL).
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].