An Appreciation: John Dodge, Bedford’s Town Historian, 2008 ~ 2014

Compiled by The Bedford Citizen

John Dodge on Bedford television -Image (c) Bedford TV, 2012 all rights reserved
John Dodge on Bedford television -Image (c) Bedford TV, 2012 all rights reserved

When John Dodge became Bedford’s Town Historian in 2008, the twinkle in his eye was brighter than usual. “I want Bedford to enjoy its history,” Dodge said, “and I love it when people laugh.” And laugh they did, even when John’s stories were oft-told or occasionally a touch ribald. There was never a question, however, about the depth of John’s affection for Bedford, “his town.”

John Dodge died on August 3, after celebrating his 93rd birthday in July.

A familiar sight on the weekend before Thanksgiving: John Dodge collecting coats to benefit St. Francis House shelter in Boston - Image (c) JMcCT, 2012
A familiar sight on the weekend before Thanksgiving: John Dodge collecting coats to benefit St. Francis House shelter in Boston – Image (c) JMcCT, 2012

In addition to his duties as Town Historian, many remember Dodge as an ardent supporter of Boston’s day shelter, St. Francis House for more than 30 years.

In a 2012 interview, John said, “There’s nothing worse than being homeless, and I want to do all I can to help.” In the 19th century Bedford had a “poor farm” on Springs Road, and its cows and chickens were counted in the annual Town Report. “People lived on those farms and were productive,” he continued, “but they are a thing of the past and now poor people often have no place to go.”

At the polls
A constant figure at town elections, John Dodge collected contributions for St. Francis House, a Boston’s first day shelter. Image (c) JMcCT, 2012 all rights reserved

On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, from 1983 until 2015, John could be found along Great Road collecting gently-used coats for St. Francis House, or at the polls with a jar that quickly filled with voters’ small change to support the shelter’s work. Over the years nearly 10,000 garments were donated to the coat drive.

Mrs. Bessie Liljegren, John’s junior high school art teacher, appreciated his talent and started him on a lifelong career path. Before his retirement, John maintained one of the largest collections of ephemera in the Northeast, including a world-class collection of antique and vintage Valentines. Selling both original prints and hand-colored copies, John’s work can be found at Boston Children’s Hospital, the Seaport Hotel, Chicago’s Palmer House hotel, and the Ocean House in Watch Hill, RI among other institutions.

Cutting the BACS's 60th anniversary cake: John Dodge, Evelyn Rice and current BACS president Sylvia Mallory - Image (c) Dawn Warrington, 2016 all rights reserved - Click image to see it at full resolution
Cutting the BACS’s 60th anniversary cake: John Dodge, Evelyn Rice and current BACS president Sylvia Mallory – Image (c) Dawn Warrington, 2016 all rights reserved – Click image to see it at full resolution

John was a proud founder of the Bedford Arts and Crafts Society (BACS) and was present to cut the ceremonial cake when BACS celebrated its 60th anniversary in May, 2016. As recently as 2013, John’s drawing “Two Old Men” won first place in the BACS annual Bedford Day Art Show.

BACS president Sylvia Mallory said, “As one of the three BACS founders, as well as an acclaimed artist and art collector, John has been a continuing inspiration to members through the years. We were delighted to have him as guest of honor at our recent celebration of the sixtieth anniversary of BACS’s founding. John regaled us that evening with happy reminiscences and wry remarks, and he took obvious pleasure in making the first cut into the celebratory cake. He planned to do a special workshop for us this coming fall. John stayed connected with BACS through his honorary membership and was a cherished friend to members. He will be deeply missed.”

A long-time Life Member of the Bedford Historical Society, John was described by Society president Don Corey as a dear friend whose “smile, friendship and humorous stories will be sorely missed.”

Rev. John Gibbons, senior minister at First Parish, wrote, “John’s dignity, humility, and pride in all things Bedford is a lasting legacy. I loved his stories, his sense of humor, and the twinkle in his eyes.”

The-young-John-Dodge
John Dodge as a young man – Image (c) Personal collection of John Dodge, all rights reserved

Thanks to Bedford TV, several videos show John during his time as Town Historian, remembering Bedford as he knew it from his arrival here in 1925.

Using ephemera from his own collection and resources from the Bedford Historical Society, John described his early life in town: Grange Fairs, winning 25 cents for a first place finish in a bicycle race, skating at Bedford Springs – now known as Fawn Lake, swimming in Elm Brook, fishing from the dam at the Bacon/Clark mill pond, or sliding down the curving banister in the foyer at Old Town Hall.

John is survived by his wife Constance (Hatson) Donovan Stavropoulos Dodge of Burlington; his chilren Rick Dodge of Marblehead and Julie Wright (Robert) of Chelmsford; his stepchildren Margaret Donovan (Richard Hughes) of New York City, Gail Hartwell (Raymond B.) of Bedford, and Nick Stavropoulos of Gloucester; and many beloved grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews and extended family.  He was preceded in death by his first wife, Frances (Seften) Dodge, his brother Robert Dodge and his sister, Nancy Dodge Lyons.

Calling hours will be held at the Bedford Funeral Home, 167 the Great Rd., Bedford from 2 until 5 pm on Sunday, August 7. A graveside service at Shawsheen Cemetery will take place at 11 am on Monday, August 8 followed by a memorial service at noon in the sanctuary at First Parish, Unitarian Universalist Church on Bedford Common, 75 the Great Rd., Bedford.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to St. Francis House day shelter in downtown Boston, www.stfrancishouse.org or St. Francis House, P.O. Box 120499, Boston, MA 02112-0499.

Editor’s Note: Click this link to read a fuller history/biography of John Dodge as written by his son Rick.


Keep our journalism strong! Support The Citizen Journalism Fund today. Contact The Bedford Citizen: editor@thebedfordcitizen.org or 781-325-8606

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