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Dennis Dodge (1934 – 2014)

Dennis E. Dodge, longtime ACS member and proprietor of Bethlehem Nursery in Bethlehem, CT, died suddenly on January 3 of heart failure at Waterbury Hospital. He was 79 and is survived by his wife and partner in the nursery, Mary Lou, and their two sons, Michael and Steven, and a daughter, Terri. Dodge was the 2006 winner of the Harper Award for Merit in the Field of Conifers and was widely respected for his expertise in Sciadopitys cultivars.

After serving as tank commander overseas in the Army, Dodge returned to Connecticut in 1960 to open up an auto body shop in Waterbury that he ran for 40 years. His garden gradually evolved into a nursery that he operated for 29 years where he propagated and developed rare and unusual dwarf conifers that were prized by collectors the world over. He also enjoyed hunting, fishing and rooting for the NCAA Champion UConn women’s basketball team.

Dennis Dodge with one of his favorite Sciadopitys cultivars, 'Yellow Dream' in his garden in 2011.
Dennis Dodge with one of his favorite Sciadopitys cultivars, ‘Yellow Dream’ in his garden in 2011.

Photo by Bob Fincham

“The American Conifer Society — and in particular the Northeast Region of the Society — has lost one of its most outstanding, knowledgeable and generous members,” said ACS President Larry Nau.

“Dennis’ contributions to the Society date back to its founding. He was a magnanimous donor of trees to all of the Northeastern Region’s events. When the Region hosted the National meetings he made an extra effort to have the very best trees available for our benefit auctions.

“Dennis was well connected with conifer enthusiasts and growers around the world such that he managed to get the latest cultivars — of Abies concolor and Sciadopitys verticullata to name a few — to his customers and ACS colleagues. He will be sorely missed by all; our condolences go out to Mary Lou and his family.”

In lieu of flowers, contributions in Dennis’ name may be made to Bethlehem Volunteer Ambulance Association, P.O. Box 401, Bethlehem 06751; or to Bethlehem Volunteer Fire Department, P.O. Box 504, Bethlehem 06751.

9 comments to “Dennis Dodge (1934 – 2014)

  1. David Olszyk commented

    R.I.P. Dennis. I never met the man personally, but I’ve purchased a few of his trees over the years. As I strolled the garden today, I paused at those specimens and gave thought to his impact on our world. I’m thankful for his contributions and hopeful for the younger Coneheads ready to follow his lead.

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  2. Bob Fincham commented

    Dennis was a friend and I will miss him. He maintained a good sense of humor, even when his greenhouses were collapsing in the snow or some of his favorite Sciadopitys were being “debranched” by an ice storm. He was a generous person with his plants and his time. I always enjoyed spending time with him on my few visits to the east coast. Dennis was open to learning new things about his beloved conifers and was always on the lookout for something new. The conifer society did not just lose a supporter and a source of knowledge, it also lost one of the special members who makes it such a strong organization.

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  3. Dax Herbst commented

    Dennis was my closest friend in the world of conifers. We were friends for a decade. A friend of mine said that Dennis did “God’s Work” – and this is true. It’s friends like Dennis that made the world a more beautiful place by wielding a razor blade or a knife, pieces of wood, a borrowed root system, or a root system he created from a cutting and grew on in a container. His knowledge knew no bounds; his strength was propagation.

    A lot of people I’ve met who are propagators have said, “Dennis Dodge could graft a toothpick to a seedling and get the toothpick to grow.” I don’t doubt them. If there was ever the most ridiculously skinny scion that needed be grafted, he’d be the first person I would have turned to. He taught me to graft and while it’s true he was the best and he taught me everything I know, I am sure he didn’t teach me everything he knew.

    God bless you my friend, and your family. It was an enjoyable ride.

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  4. Don Howse commented

    Dennis has been a friend for many years, and I will miss his witty telephone calls. He was very generous with his plants, and his opinions. We have all lost a good friend.

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  5. Will Fletcher commented

    Wow, a tremendous loss both for conifer lovers everywhere but to all of the friends, collectors and nursery owners he knew and met over the years. I didn’t know Dennis apart from email conversations but he was a genuinely nice guy, taking time to teach me some plant history and inspiring collecting in my own life with his passion and energy. I really wish I could have met him in person.

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  6. Brent Markus commented

    Dennis was so generous with his time and his sharing of plant material. He was a collector extraordinaire and could tap into a world-wide network of plant friends who spoke dozens of different languages. While he is best known for his work with Sciadopitys, we can thank him for dozens of varieties he is responsible for making available in the United States. He was an asset to this industry and our close knit group of collectors, and he will certainly be missed. We honor him by keeping his plants and passion alive.

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  7. Zsolt Mesterhazy commented

    I met first with the name Dennis Dodge by Dax Herbst. He often mailed me: I ask Dennis, I speak with Dennis about an actual theme. Later on I studied his special collections of Pinus parviflora and Sciadopitys verticillata. He showed me, that digging into the deep in a theme, brings sometimes success. This two specieses are not loved in the continental Europe because of chalky soil, but his collections made me clear, that its possible to go deep for better knowlegde.

    Later I was informed, that Dennis got a piece from the Sidney Waxman heritage by Lady Florence. I very hope there will be someone, who not only the Dodge, but also the Waxman haritage cares about for the next generations. Two years ago Dax informed me, that a good friend of his – Dennis – would likely organize a scion exchange with european breeders. I helped him as I could.

    He remains me the Collector, who gives and gets – plants and honour.

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  8. Larry Nau commented

    We just received this reply from the Dodge Family:
    We want to thank everyone for replying with well wishes and condolences. Many have asked about calling hours. There will be a memorial service for Dad on Saturday Jan. 11, 2014 at 11:00 AM at The Church of the Nativity 48 East St. Bethlehem, CT.

    We appreciate all the kind replies that we have received.
    Thank you so much !!!

    The Dodge Family

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  9. Tom Cox commented

    Dennis was a very good friend to me and very generous contributor to our arboretum. In 2006 I had the honor to present Dennis with the Harper Award for development of conifers. My wife Evelyn and I then had the chance to visit his nursery for the first time and also meet Mary Lou. We quickly realized that these were our kind of people. We frequently e-mailed and spoke on the phone and I always enjoyed him.

    Our last face-to-face was this past summer when I and Ken Graham visited him. After giving me his usual hard time for being from the South, we all settled in for a great tour and laughs. He made sure I left with a cache of new Sciadopitys‎. The last communications from him was the day before he passed away when he e-mailed to ask for my cell number. Regrettably, I was late in responding. Dennis was one of the greatest nurseryman that I’ve ever met.

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