If I had to choose one word to describe four-time former mayor of Fort Pierce William Dannahower, who died Thursday at age 90, that’s what it would be.
Dannahower, whose public service spanned five decades, was quiet and mild-mannered. Yet he was relentless in getting things done in the community.
A longtime dentist, Dannahower was affectionately known as “Doc” by generations of Fort Pierce residents.
If at first he wasn’t successful, “Doc” would plug away at a problem until he achieved success.
That certainly was the case with his campaign to bring a federal courthouse to Fort Pierce. It became a drawn-out slog that took 25 years of quiet persuasion on Dannahower’s part to bring the project to fruition. His contribution to getting the building for his hometown was commemorated in 2012 when the atrium was named after him.
Even after Dannahower left elected office in 1995, his successor Mayor Eddie Enns had appointed “Doc” to a task force to bring the courthouse home.
Dannahower previously had worked to keep other major public buildings in downtown Fort Pierce. He fought to keep the county courthouse and state Department of Children Families building here, rather than allowing their relocation to Port St. Lucie.
“He deeply cared for Fort Pierce,” current Mayor Linda Hudson noted this week. “He was our longest-serving mayor, but it was not only the length but the quality of service that we remember.”
St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara concurred.
“I’ve known Doc for a long, long time. He mentored me during my first run as sheriff, and I always looked up to him. He was a visionary who loved Fort Pierce. He always wanted the best for the city,” Mascara said.
Dannahower practiced dentistry in Fort Pierce for 30 years until he closed his practice in the late 1980s. He was a city commissioner in 1963 when the vote to add fluoride to city water was approved, the first city on the Treasure Coast to do so.
“The basic reason was that it was extremely well-proven that an adequate amount of fluoride in the drinking water reduced tooth decay in developing teeth by two-thirds,” Dannahower told a reporter in 2005, “and that it’s perfectly safe. The benefits continue throughout life.”
Fluoride opponents slapped Fort Pierce with an injunction after the vote. The suit was eventually overturned on appeal. Dannahower recalled opponents also claimed fluoridation of water was part of a plot by the Aluminum Company of America to get rid of a waste product.
“We had a scorching letter from the company that put that claim to rest,” the former dentist recalled.
Dannahower served on the Florida State Board of Dentistry for 12 years, including two terms as chairman.
He served a broad range of community organizations including the Workforce Development Board of the Treasure Coast, Children’s Medical Services Network and the U.S. Department of Housing Urban Development.
Dannahower also spent countless hours working on behalf of the Boys Girls Club, Kiwanis, Jaycees and the Salvation Army. Boy Scouts of America was an organization especially close to his heart. He became an Eagle Scout in the early years of World War II.
“There wasn’t much to do in Fort Pierce at that time,” he told reporter Tyler Treadway in a 2006 story. “The beaches were closed and the movie theaters were pretty much filled up with guys from the (UDT training) base. I enjoyed the Scouts because I got to go places and do things I otherwise wouldn’t get to do.”
Four of his family members subsequently followed “Doc” as Eagle Scouts. When his grandson Ian Nunn achieved the honor in 2006, Dannahower noted “one thing I got out of it, and something I think kids today get out of it, is a sense of obligation for service.”
Service was William Dannahower’s watchword. He served his hometown immaculately for a half century and was rightly revered for doing so.
One indication of how much “Doc” meant to his community was the response to a birthday card campaign one of his caregivers, Judy Case, arranged in July for his 90th birthday.
“At his age,” Case told me, “he doesn’t want gifts; he has everything he needs. But he lives for that mail.”
She recalled one day a few weeks before his birthday when the mailbox at his Indian River Drive home had been completely empty.
“There must be something wrong!” an agitated Dannahower told Case. “I must call the Post Office and find out what happened.”
So Case persuaded old friends and colleagues to mail as many birthday cards as possible to “Doc” before his big day. She’d hoped for 90 cards, but the final tally was 151 from all over the Treasure Coast, Florida and across the country.
It was a small example of the respect and love that gentle William Dannahower encouraged in people from all walks of life.
May he rest in peace. He has served us well.
Anthony Westbury is a columnist for TCPalm. This column reflects his opinion. Contact him at 772-221-4220, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him @TCPalmWestbury on Twitter.
Funeral services for William R. Dannahower
Visitation: 5-7 p.m. Friday at Yates Funeral Crematory, 7951 S. U.S. Hwy 1, Fort Pierce.
Funeral: 11 a.m. Saturday at Indian River Presbyterian Church, 2499 Virginia Ave., Fort Pierce. Private burial will be at Riverview Memorial Park.