The Rev. Leonard Angus Dahl, a Presbyterian pastor who was the founding director of Harford County’s Ashley Addiction Treatment, died Dec. 11 at the Oak Crest Retirement Community of complications from a fall. He was 82.
His daughter, Elisabeth Morrison Dahl of Baltimore, said he died at the same age and on the same day as his mother had, 31 years previously.
Born in Milton, N.D., he was the son of Ivan Dahl, a farmer, and his wife. Mae Morrison Dahl. He was a graduate of Milton High School and earned a bachelor’s degree at Jamestown College. He also had a master’s degree from the University of Washington in Seattle and was a Princeton Theological Seminary graduate. He was ordained in 1963.
After work among Native Americans in Ketchikan, Alaska, in 1961, he came to Baltimore in 1963 as assistant pastor at Second Presbyterian Church in Guilford. He was also a Johns Hopkins University chaplain.
He went on to be founding pastor of the Prince of Peace Presbyterian Church in Crofton in 1967 and then became pastor of Deer Creek Harmony, a church in Harford County’s Darlington.
He became director of Bel Air’s Mann House, a halfway house for alcoholic men, and left Maryland to become a therapist and counselor at the Gateway Center in Pittsburgh.
“My father changed the direction of his ministry. He went from being a church pastor to addressing addiction,” said his daughter. “He realized his calling was shifting because of his own issues.”
He joined Mae Ashley Abraham and the Rev. Joseph C. Martin to establish what was initially called Father Martin's Ashley, a Havre de Grace treatment center for alcoholism and drug addiction.
“Leonard was a solid, courageous and spiritual man,” said Ms. Abraham. “Leonard, Father Martin, my husband and I all worked as a team. He was a caring man, a private and proud man and a great person.”
Mr. Dahl initially served as Ashley’s executive director and was its chief executive officer until 2007. He retired in 2015 as its pastoral minister.
“Leonard was the first person hired at Ashley and I see him as one of our unsung founders,” said David Nassef, Ashley’s board chair. “He was in his heart and soul a pastor and he brought that sensibility to the treatment field. He treated the addicted person as well as their family. He had a tremendous impact on spouses, mothers and fathers. I know we would not be where we are today without him.”
Mr. Dahl ran the rehabilitation facility, which overlooks the upper Chesapeake Bay in Havre de Grace. The property was once the home of U.S. Sen. Millard E. Tydings.
"The designed effect is to have a non-institutional look, " Mr. Dahl said in a 2001 Baltimore Sun article which described Ashley and its mission. "We want you to focus as much as possible on the reason you are here."
Ashley became one the top-rated treatment centers in the country.
"We have a niche of a market," he said. "The catalyst for everything is Father Martin, who is widely known for educating in the field of addiction."
He also said that the center’s beginnings were difficult. "There were a lot of bleak periods in the early days.” he said in the 2001 article.
“Tracking the recidivism of far-flung patients is difficult,” he said.
He also believed that Ashley gave its patients the resources they need for recovery. “’We give you the best here,” he said. "The ball is in the [patients’] court, and we tell them that."
Rebecca “Becky” Flood, Ashley’s president and chief executive officer, said, “He led what is perceived as one of the premier addiction centers in the nation. He was the architect that made the two founders’ vision a reality. He was known as a quiet, gentle, spiritual and intellectual leader.”
He received the 2007 Conway Hunter Award and the Jamestown College Alumnus of the Year Award, also given in 2007.
“He was committed to his job and would get up early in the morning and walk the boardwalk at Havre de Grace. He would be at Ashley at dawn. He loved his work,” his daughter said. “He did enjoy classical music and old movies.”
A life celebration will be held at 10:30 a.m. April 20 at Ashley, 800 Tydings Lane in Havre de Grace.
In addition to his daughter, survivors include his former wife, Ann Weller Dahl, who remained a lifelong friend; three sisters, Myrdena Loreth of Wenatchee, Wash., Doris Klein of North Dakota and Phyllis Espegard of Florida and Minnesota; and a grandson.