Kennett Square friends, leaders pay tribute to Dennis Melton07/06/2021 03:45PM ● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
Before a gathering of more than 100 friends and community leaders in the Hartefeld Room at the Hartefeld Golf Club on June 30, Dennis Melton – who died on May 5 -- was remembered as a quiet leader who led by the power of his conviction and the passion of his conscience.
Melton was an architect, a recording and performing musician and a local visionary, and at the center core of that commitment was the town of Kennett Square, Melton’s wife Donna said at the beginning of the hour-long ceremony.
“About 25 years ago, Dennis had said to me, ‘I am looking for a place to make a difference. I am looking for a church,’” she said. “He said, ‘I don’t want a church building, and the dogma and politics that go with regular church, but for something I can really dig into. He came home one day and said, ‘I have found my church, and it’s called Kennett Square.’
“The thing that is so beautiful about Dennis Melton was that he was a person who lived a life that he had always dreamed of, and all of the wonderful colleagues that were part of his day-to-day work made that vision come true.”
Moderated by celebrant and local funeral director Matt Grieco, the event was highlighted by a performance by the CommUNITY Choir under the direction of former Kennett Square Mayor Leon Spencer. The choir performed “Gather ‘Round,” a song co-written by Melton that is performed at the start of the annual MLK CommUNITY Breakfast sponsored by the MLK CommUNITY of the Greater Kennett Area.
Following the choir’s performance, the event invited several community leaders to offer their memories and praise of their former friend and colleague. Cheryl Kuhn, the president of the Southern Chester County Chamber of Commerce, recalled “the pleasure” of knowing Melton over the past ten years, which included his tenure and achievements on the chamber’s community and government relations committee and the Route 1 Economic Development Initiative.
She called Melton “humble,” “low key” and a “true gentleman.”
“He was one of the first people I met when I started,” Kuhn said. “He immediately came up to me, shook my hand, and said how happy he was that I was here. He said that we needed someone like me, and we didn’t know each other, so I was surprised he said that.”
Kuhn said that she learned the power of listening by observing Melton at meetings.
“When he contributed to a conversation, his observations always had purpose,” Kuhn said. “When there was a discussion around the table, he preferred to listen to that discussion and patiently lay it out for everyone in the room and then proceeded to offer one or two solutions – calmly, objectively and always with a smile.”
Influence of Mabel Thompson
Elder Jerry Poe of the MLK CommUNITY of the Greater Kennett Area described the impact Melton had in helping to begin the organization alongside Mabel Thompson, who would have a major impact on Melton’s life.
“Working with Mabel Thompson allowed Dennis to be able to tap into his moral conscience and moral compass, sealing a bond in a relationship between Dennis and Mabel that would last for many, many years,” Poe said. “Dennis was a humanitarian, building bridges between people and the community, and no one can appreciate that more than those who have been isolated and marginalized.
“The MLK CommUNITY allowed Dennis to be able to use his gifts and talents.”
Poe said that Melton was far too humble to take on the role of becoming the committee’s chairman after Thompson, but instead took on the position of being vice-chairman, at the same time encouraging Poe to become the committee’s new chairman. Poe also recalled playing his harmonica with Melton and community leader Joan Holliday at the conclusion of the annual MLK CommUNITY breakfasts.
“As we celebrate the life of Dennis, we also have to celebrate a life that was well loved,” he said. “Dennis isn’t physically here. We know that, but he’s not gone, because we can see his reflection in our community – in the buildings and structures and in his imprint in our lives, daily.”
Jeff Yetter, the president of the Board of Trustees for the Kennett Library, told the story of Melton’s impact on the start of the Kennett Flash, which included Melton’s help in raising the initial seed money that began what has become the area’s premier music venue and listening room. It led to Melton’s work as the architect for the performance space, that Yetter said Melton modeled after what a venue of its kind should be.
“He set out to design a space that was the exact space that he and all of the musicians he had ever played with wanted to build – a place where you could hear the music,” Yetter said. “It was always about the music.”
Kennett Library terrace to be named
in honor of Melton
Yetter, who is helping to spearhead the efforts to raise the funding needed to construct the new Kennett Library – slated to begin later this summer and be completed by December 2022 – also recalled Melton’s work as the library’s architect of record.
“Dennis was a fierce opponent of the library a few years ago – that was the library that wanted to move out of town [to Ways Lane] – and Dennis and a few of the people in this audience here fought very hard to keep it in town, because they knew that an [accessible] library was very important to the community,” Yetter said.
Yetter said that on June 15, the library’s board of directors voted unanimously to honor Melton’s many contributions to the library by embarking on a campaign to name the outdoor terrace of the new building the Melton Terrace.
Repeating the beginning, uplifting lyrics of Melton’s song “Gather ‘Round,” Spencer said that every work in the song is a reflection of Melton and how he lived.
“Harmony as a musical term can be defined as the simultaneous sounding of pitch frequencies – notes,” he said. “It is most aesthetically pleasing when the notes don’t clash. It can be dissonant if the composer chooses. Typically, sounds that seem to collide eventually resolve and come to a desirable, harmonious conclusion.
“In his composition ‘Gather ‘Round,’ Dennis wrote about harmony within the context of human togetherness. His lyrics speak of an attainable dream, one that will result in joy and gladness when the parts unite as one.
“We are those parts, and as the song implores, we must work for peace and harmony until the dream is shared by everyone, everywhere.”
Spencer said that as a musician, Melton knew the importance of the word “ensemble.”
“He found joy in his heart upon hearing the parts come together as one,” he said. “Harmony transcends musical discipline to include social condition. It is incumbent upon each of us to work, to live – in harmony. It requires that all of us, collectively, share in making the dream of peace and harmony a reality for everyone. By doing so, we will pay tribute to -- and honor the legacy of -- Dennis Melton, and ensure that his spirit will always be here.”
Holliday closed the event by reading from two passages. “For every joy that passes, something beautiful remains,” she read.
A memorial concert will held in tribute to Melton on Sept. 19 at the band shell at Anson B. Nixon Park in Kennett Square, beginning at 2 p.m. In the event of rain, the concert will be held at the American Legion Building in Kennett Square.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].