January 30, 2014
John Dormer, president of the Manchester Historical Society for seven years, died on Jan. 1. He was 74.
Though his time with the historical society came more recently in his life – he served as president from 2005 until 2012 – his love for volunteering started in high school.
Dormer was, along with his brother George Dormer, one of the charter members of Manchester's Instructors of the Handicapped program. He was also its first president and later an adult adviser.
Another brother, Daniel Dormer, said that John Dormer's passion for volunteering came from their parents.
"We learned it from our parents, from observation," Daniel Dormer said. "You saw what your parents did and it was the right thing. They never told us we had to. We did it because they did it."
John Dormer also delivered meals for the Meals on Wheels program for a long time.
"He is a person that volunteered for someone else," Daniel Dormer said. "He saw a need and he would just do it."
John Dormer was married to Jean Dormer and had one son, John Dormer II, and a stepson, Michael McLaughlin.
He lived virtually his entire life in Manchester, other than years spent studying at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, from which he graduated in 1961 with a degree in mechanical engineering. He then went on to work as lead plant engineer at United Technologies Research Center for 39 years.
His son, John Dormer II, said his father's career influenced him to work in a similar field.
"There were a lot of weekends when we were walking around the facility and I'd see the scientists and engineers and it was always fun to see what they were working on," he said. "It's part of the reason [I am] the way that I am. It is absolutely that impactful on my life."
In his retirement John Dormer became involved with the Manchester Historical Society after being given a one-year membership from a neighbor he would often help.
"He cared about the historical society and its buildings as if they were his own," said Susan Barlow, a longtime member of the society. "That's the side of him I knew. He was a giant in the volunteer world and a giant in his commitment."
The time John Dormer spent at the historical society in his seven years as president and three years as treasurer equated to a full-time job, Barlow said.
Barlow said that John Dormer managed major projects at the historical society's main building at 175 Pine St. These included the replacement of the roof and windows.
But John Dormer was active in other was as well. Barlow said he enjoyed giving tours to students each year and would be the first to protect the town's historical buildings from being demolished.
"As far as his interest in preservation, he was willing to speak up," Barlow said. "And you're not always popular, you're standing in the way of progress."
Daniel Dormer said that his brother spent so much time working with various organizations in Manchester, including St. James Church, because that was what John Dormer thought was the right thing to do.
"You'd go some place and there'd be John, working behind the scenes making something happen," Daniel Dormer said. "He was interested in the well-being of the town and the people in the town. He did for others."
Barlow said that without John Dormer, everyone else at the historical society will have to step up their efforts a little bit more.
"We each have to kick in another 20 hours a week to make up for John," Barlow said, laughing. "We're all going to miss him a great deal."