This article was originally published in the summer 2013 Harker Quarterly.
Military schools were very popular during the years surrounding World War II, when John Dell ’44 attended Harker’s historic predecessor, the Palo Alto Military Academy (PAMA).
Today, the 81-year-old former fire ranger and expedition leader credits the school, which was an elementary and middle school for boys, with playing a key role in shaping his life.
“It was a time I began to develop my self-confidence along with important social skills. PAMA instilled an appreciation for humility, sensitivity, perseverance and the value of teamwork. It certainly taught me basic military disciplinary skills that would later serve me well as a combat U.S. Marine during the Korean War … and beyond in my career as a ranger and forest fire staff specialist,” said Dell, a native Californian who now resides in Tucson, Ariz.
Dell said that among his fondest memories of PAMA were the “exhilarating rides” in the bike patrol through the back roads and countryside around Palo Alto, which was still a small community. “And the hotdogs, chips, ice cream and movies downtown on Saturdays were also major highlights. I loved it all!” he enthused.
After working for 30 years with the U.S. Forest Service in California and the Pacific Northwest regions, Dell, whose wife had recently passed away, embarked on a second career as an adjunct instructor at Arizona’s Pima Community College.
There he taught natural and cultural histories of the Southwest and conducted educational study tours throughout the region and to many foreign countries. He also led local wilderness hiking trips and mountain climbing and canyoneering expeditions.
He eventually returned to college himself, to explore new areas and skills, receiving a B.A. in communications from Brigham Young University.
Dell participated in several humanitarian missions to Afghanistan as a board director with the Childlight Foundation for Afghan Children (childlightfoundation.org). The nonprofit humanitarian organization was started by his daughter, Diana Tacey, and strives to aid the destitute children of Afghanistan, many orphaned and displaced by nearly 40 years of devastating wars.
Just last year he retired from these incredible activities and is currently working on a book about his life experiences. Dell is not new to writing, having published more than 50 professional papers and articles on forest fire ecology and protection. He is also the author of the “Southern Arizona Trails Resource Guide.”
“I owe thanks to the colonel and all his staff. They were great people,” said Dell, who has enjoyed reflecting back upon his time at PAMA and looks forward to the continued chronicling of his fascinating life in his own soon-to-be written publication.
Editor’s note: When Dell attended PAMA it was under the direction of Colonel Richard Kelly. The school (like Dell’s own life) saw many changes. Donald Nichols assumed leadership of PAMA in 1950 and The Harker Day School in 1959. He merged the two schools under the name Harker Academy in 1972. Howard Nichols succeeded his father in 1973, dropping the military program while expanding academics and other program offerings at what later became The Harker School.