A life lived well comes to an end

Founder of Dorn


Staff Writer

Daniel W. Dorn Sr.Daniel W. Dorn Sr. Daniel Whitfield Dorn Sr. was asked a few years ago what he might change about his life if given the opportunity.

“I don’t think I could improve on it. I don’t have any regrets,” he replied.

Those two sentences could surely serve as a fitting epitaph for Dorn, 94, whose life ended peacefully on Saturday, Jan. 29, at his home on Mechanic Street in Red Bank.

“He had a great life and there are just so many good things to remember about him,” his son, Daniel W. Dorn Jr., said Monday.

“He was one of the warmest, most genuine people I ever knew,” said Red Bank Mayor Edward J. McKenna Jr. in remembering Dorn.

“He had a gregarious personality. He was funny, witty and the consummate husband and father. He was a real public-service type of guy, always thinking about others, always helping people.”

“I think he was a person of incredible integrity,” McKenna said, “and he was a historian, really. It just happened to be the history was a photographic history. He cared an awful lot about the history of the town.’

Although his name was synonymous with Red Bank, Dorn was born Sept. 2, 1910 in Asbury Park where his father, Daniel DuBouchet Dorn, ran the projector at the Nickelodeon.

His family moved to Pinckney Road in Red Bank when he was six years old and trolleys still ran on Broad and Monmouth streets.

He attended Red Bank High School and while still in his teens, Dorn learned how to be a projectionist from his father, running the projector for the second show at the Empire and Strand theaters in Red Bank when he was just 14.

He recalled how he was so small he had to climb on a box to thread the projector and he remembered running a color movie for the first time, “The Black Pirate” with Douglas Fairbanks.

When his father switched to news photography, Dorn joined him as a field cameraman shooting newsreel footage for Fox Movietone News.

In the 1930s, he and his father founded Supreme Productions Movie Company in Red Bank and made a series of movies with titles like “Romance in Red Bank” and “Romance in Freehold.”

The movies had a romantic plot but were actually a vehicle for promoting the businesses that were the film’s sponsors.

Together, they made about 30 “romance” films but the Depression put a damper on advertising and Dorn father and son went back to making newsreels.

Eventually, Dorn, tired of the nomadic life of a field cameraman, yearned to settle down in Red Bank.

In 1937, the Dorns opened a small photo shop at 10 Wallace St., across from the present location, and branched out into portrait and commercial photography.

The business thrived as the Dorns capitalized on advances like flash photography.

Early on, Hilda West took a job in the photo shop and ended up becoming Dorn’s wife. The two were married for close to 55 years at the time of her death in 2001.

Dorn was drafted into the Navy late in WWII, serving as an aerial photographer while his parents kept Dorn’s Photo Shop open.

Dorn and Hilda, who he affectionately called “Boo,” raised four children and he eventually stepped back from the business in 1972 to let his son, Dan Jr., run Dorn’s.

Affectionately known as “Chief,” Dorn was a tireless dispenser of goodwill in the Red Bank area and was the beloved patriarch of a close-knit family.

He was predeceased by his son Philip “Tinker” Dorn who was killed while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam, by his wife, Hilda West Dorn, and by a great-grandson, Connor Sage.

He is survived by his three children and their spouses: Daniel and Judy Dorn of Little Silver, Patricia and Jesse Randall of Pine Knoll Shores, N.C., and Kathy and George Severini of Fair Haven. His “adopted” daughter, Faye Jamison, resides with her husband, John, in South Carolina. He had six granddaughters: Cassandra Dorn, Nancy Dorn Smith, Sarah Dorn, Cheryl Harvey, Ellen Sage and Kaitlin Severini; and four great-grandchildren: Megan and Garrett Sage, Glenn Harvey and Avery Smith.

A believer in community service, Dorn founded the Red Bank High School Booster Club in the late 1950s, started the Shrewsbury Little League, served as president of the Red Bank Lions Club and of the Shrewsbury Community Appeal, and was a member of the Red Bank Quadrangle Club.

In 2002, he was honored as a distinguished alumnus by Red Bank Regional High School. He rounded out a full professional and civic life as a private pilot, amateur golfer, motorcyclist and charter member of the SMCBSC Shooting Club.

Dorn’s upbeat attitude about life was reflected in his favorite phrase, “Are we having fun yet?”

Interviewed along with other life-long county residents for the Monmouth County Library’s Oral History Project in 2000, Dorn was asked what advice he would offer a young person about how to live their life.

“Well, I would say, ‘Live it,’ ” he answered. “Just take advantage of your opportunities, utilize your talents. … serve others, try not to hurt anybody as you go through, but live it, live it to the fullest.”

A memorial service to celebrate the life of Daniel Whitfield Dorn Sr. will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 5, at the First Presbyterian Church at Rumson, 4 East River Road. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Red Bank Corps of the Salvation Army, 20 Riverside Ave., or the VNA Hospice Program, 141 Bodman Place, Red Bank.

by Gloria Stravelli