This month, Dale Dent celebrates his one-year anniversary living at Birchrock Castle in Mukwonago.
We caught up with him on the patio to find out what he loves about his home and how he became a “caretaker” for the flowering and vegetable plants on the property.
Dale Dent has rarely met a plant that he didn’t like, or saved from premature demise.
While he spent a lengthy career as a machinist for Wisconsin Centrifugal and as a retail store owner in Easton, Dale Dent has been gardening all of his life. At Birchrock Castle, he’s the king of tomatoes, especially this year.
“I can’t believe how well they grow here,” says Dale. “The last three weeks of September, we harvested about 75 tomatoes. We all enjoy eating them fresh and in stews for dinner. With four pots left, there’s about 100 tomatoes that we hope to take in yet this fall.”
Dale took on this additional role one day while watching Birchrock Administrator Candy Mings caring for flowers on the back patio.
“I decided to help Candy, and she said, ‘You’ll get dirty,’ and I said, ‘I’ve been dirty all of my life,’” Dale recalls. “I look after about nine baskets of hanging petunias. I add plant food and water them.”
From three pots outside the door on the patio to gardens on at least a half-acre spread, Dale has produced all of his own vegetables and fruit trees everywhere he has lived.
This Michigan native grew up on a family farm, so he’s no stranger to hard work. Even at 87 years old, not much slows him down. The fall of the year reminds him of when he worked for a potato farmer and developed an incredible skill.
“You take a shovel, go underground and lift up two rows of potatoes. I picked them by the bushel by hand. I had the record there for putting 101 bushels in bags in one day. The farm had 80 acres of potatoes every year. That’s why I have a sore back now.”
While he likes to keep busy, Dale also appreciates the tranquil, wooded setting at Birchrock Castle and regularly enjoys conversations outside on sunny days. His wife of 67 years, Dorothy, has been a resident for three years now. In fact, he knew everyone on staff the first day he moved here. Dorothy is just down the hall from him, so they see each other every day.
“It’s just like home,” Dale says. “All of the people are nice and I don’t have to cook,” Dale says. “I love the food here. I haven’t had a bad meal since I arrived. They are professionals in the kitchen.
“The personality of the people here…well, they treat you like gold. I’m not exaggerating a bit. If you have a problem, they are right there to help.”
In fact, when Dale recently made a special request of one of Castle’s owners, it was fulfilled.
“Kris Kiefer (vice president of Castle Senior Living) was here one day to talk with Candy and I asked him to play the piano. He said, ‘I’d love to.’ He played five songs and sang, too. Kris can really play the piano well and has a good voice.”
When you meet Dale, you realize he’s not a man who reflects on the painful times of his life. His father died when Dale was young and he could only afford one year of college. When he looks back on the past, it’s with appreciation and joy.
“I’ve had a happy life. My wife and I never smoked. We had four children – two boys and two girls. Our oldest daughter died four years ago. The others all live close to here.”
His family, residents and staff are fortunate to witness the fruits of his labor on the grounds, and Dale is always happy to share bits of gardening advice.
“Pick off all dead flowers everyday so that the plant grows bigger and blooms again.”