Story and Photos by Paul Clark
Twenty-three years after graduating from Warren Wilson College, Dale Morse is still living his life based upon the school’s Triad of academic, work and service.
Each year he travels to Asheville from his blacksmithing shop in Waynesboro, Va., to help the blacksmith crew members advance their skills. It’s a service he’s done for several years now – something he does to stay connected to the school and its belief that service is one of three legs of a meaningful, well-balanced life.
“Being a self-employed artist, I don’t make a lot of money, but I can give my time,” Morse said outside the blacksmith shop while the crew worked inside on a log rack. “The college experience has a lot to do with growing up and developing social skills and gaining some knowledge while you’re at it. This school is particularly good at also giving you work experience.”
Morse, who had his own blacksmith shop when he was 14 years old, had a good work ethic when he arrived on campus as a freshman in 1985. He got into the trade in 1976, at age 9, as a living history re-enactor at Booker T. Washington National Monument near his home in Virginia’s Roanoke Valley. He took to heart Washington’s teachings that helped slaves emancipated by the Civil War improve their lives.
“His philosophy was, get an education and learn a specialty trade,” said Morse, a solid man with thick arms. “If you’re the best bricklayer in town, everybody’s going to come to you. That philosophy of strengthening your mind and knowing how to build things really resonated with me as a child. Coming to Warren Wilson, the philosophy was very similar.”
During his week on campus every year, Morse teaches students the basics of blacksmithing or leads them through a project, depending on how much experience the eight-member crew has. Throughout the year, the crew makes functional ironwork like door latches, coat racks and bench hardware. It also fixes tools for other student crews, such as those involved with the gardens and landscape.
“We unbend a lot of shovels,” said Hannah Lauzon, a former blacksmith crew member from Coventry, N.Y., on campus this semester to finish up a project.
“We don’t have a full-time supervisor, so it’s our duty to self-educate, pretty much,” Lauzon said. Older students pass what they know to newer students.
“And Dale comes in and gives us everything else,” she said. “He can give us tips on our posture, so we don’t hurt ourselves. He has a wealth of knowledge. This is the kind of thing that, if it were a class, you’d pay a lot to attend.”
Morse is happy to share his knowledge from many years of experience.
“These guys get a week of my time for free,” Morse said. “That’s my donation to Warren Wilson.”