Former lawyer, Press copy chief finds renewed purpose as CASA volunteer

David Floyd • Updated Jun 4, 2017 at 4:51 PM

Don Dale went to law school in the early 1980s because he wanted to help people.

Approaching 40 years old at the time, Dale had spent the last two decades years working in various capacities at WJSO, a radio station broadcasting in Johnson City and Jonesborough, and for one year at WKIN in Kingsport.

“Sometimes when you talk about helping that’s a little idealistic in that much of law follows a lot of ... procedure and paperwork and late hours and things of that nature,” Dale said.

Dale was a little disappointed with the kind of work he did as a lawyer.

“You can do a certain amount of good in certain areas,” he said, but his job also involved a lot of rote tasks like equity mortgage closings.

“It just wasn’t my puerile lifetime dream,” he said.

After spending a couple decades working at the Johnson City Press as a copy editor and then the copy desk supervisor, Dale retired in 2008. A few years later, he found a role in the community that he found fulfilling.

Dale now volunteers as a court appointed special advocate through CASA of Northeast Tennessee and works on behalf of dependent, neglected or abused children in juvenile court. He has been volunteering for about five and half years.

“We go out and investigate the circumstances, we talk to all the people involved in the case,” Dale said. “Our primary function is to advocate for the best interest of the child or children.”

Volunteers help provide the judge in the juvenile court wth information that would help him or her make a determination about what should happen at a particular stage in a child’s case. 

“It does give me a sense of accomplishment or a sense of making some difference that I might not have always seen when I was practicing law,” he said.

He said that not all cases are successful, but he believes that many of them have produced a good outcome for the child or children involved.

“Children cannot advocate for themselves ... so they really need somebody they can count on and maybe give them a little sense of purpose and pep.”

Although CASA work now takes a up a lot of his time, Dale enjoyed his intervening years in media, working for radio stations and the Press.

Dale spent his childhood in Johnson City and graduated from East Tennessee State University with an undergraduate degree and then a master’s degree in literature some years later.

In 1961, while he was an undergraduate at ETSU, Dale applied for a part-time position at WJSO, which was popular for its regular rotation of rock ’n’ roll music. He auditioned for the station, secured the job and after several months, was hired full-time.

“Once I got into that it was just my life,” he said. “I loved everything about radio. I just kept learning — programming and music programming and promotions and all the things that are involved.”

He worked full-time and went to school part-time and in 1966, he was named the station’s program director.

Years later, after deciding he wanted to move on from his job as a lawyer, Dale applied for a position as a copy editor at the Press.

“I thought this was a good chance to get back into the media,” Dale said. “I just gave it a shot and got the job.”

Dale felt prepared for the challenges his new occupation would entail — the only thing he really had to brush up on were some of the mechanics of news writing.

“Of course, I’ve always loved proof-reading,” Dale said. “Most people would say, ‘Oh my God, you’ve got to be crazy,’ but I loved proof-reading and I still find myself doing it every day when I pick up the paper.”

He started designing the front pages of the newspaper a short while later, which was a skill he learned on the job.

After leaving the Press in 2008, Dale found himself with a lot of free time. Working as a CASA volunteer had been something on his radar for a while, so he decided to give it a try.

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