1928 – 2019
Canon Dorris Dann, former director of Our Saviour Center in El Monte, died June 29 at her home in San Gabriel. She was 91. The following obituary was provided by the center staff.
Dann began her tenure as director of Our Saviour Center in 1987. Our Saviour Center is the outreach program of the Church of Our Saviour in partnership with the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles and Immanuel Church, El Monte, where the center’s main facility is located. Annually the center serves thousands of individuals with food; shelter; medical care; and children’s and youth programming.
Dorris’s decision to become the center’s director was a surprising one: she was nearing retirement as a women’s sportswear buyer for the upscale Broadway department store. At that time, she was a volunteer board member of the fledgling agency. When they were looking for someone to lead it, she heard a sermon by the Rev. Canon Nikolaus Kouletsis on Isaiah 6:8 regarding the need to “step up and answer our own prayers.” As in the scriptural reading, Dorris stepped up and said, “Here I am Lord; send me.” After conferring with Kouletsis, she took an early retirement from the Broadway and began her 23-year mission of leading Our Saviour Center.
When Dorris began her second career in 1987 at the center, it served the community only as a food pantry. But she recognized that the community needed comprehensive programs to address multi-faceted challenges. In time, her dedication, zeal and tremendous fundraising efforts would make the food pantry among the largest private distributors of food in Los Angeles county and expand the center to add children’s programming, homeless services, and medical care.
Dann was an excellent fundraiser, grant writer and motivator, and within 10 years the Center included a new building housing the Cleaver Family Wellness Center with a full-time bilingual medical staff in association with the USC Keck School of Medicine, as well as the Beatrice Bird Computer Learning Center. The Cleaver/Bird facility was a tremendous undertaking, which added 9,600 square feet of new space for center programs.
In recognition of her work, the Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, sixth bishop of Los Angeles, named Dann an honorary canon of the Cathedral Center of St. Paul in 2003.
Five years later the center acquired additional property and built the Kid’s Campus, an 18,000 sq. ft. facility with a gymnasium, fine arts studio, cafeteria, game room and study arena. Dann’s focus had always centered around serving children and youth. Even in its early food pantry days, the center had volunteer story tellers, so kids would have something to do while their parents were in line for food. With the assistance of the center staff and the support of the Church of Our Saviour, the Center was able to secure a State of California Parks and Recreation grant, the second largest grant awarded that year. The Kids Campus was dedicated on Dann’s birthday on Oct. 3, 2015. It was a fitting tribute that after her retirement, the Kids Campus was officially renamed the Dorris Dann Kids Campus by the vestry of the Church of Our Saviour.
Dann is survived by her cousin, Helen Nelson. She also leaves the Our Saviour Center Family, many of whom have continued to be part of her life up to her last days, especially the Vega Family, the Wailase Family, Maria Gallegos, and many others. She will be missed for her tireless efforts on behalf of the poor and disenfranchised; honored for her example in answering the call to serve those in need; and loved as a friend, mentor and second mother to many.
As stated in her final directives, Dorris Dann will be interred in a private ceremony alongside her parents in the San Gabriel Cemetery. A community celebration of her life will be organized by her friends, family, and staff at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 28 at the Dorris Dann Kids Campus, 4316 Peck Road, El Monte 91731.
Memorial donations may be made to Dorris Dann Kids Campus.
A video about Dann’s work at Our Saviour Center and the Dorris Dann Kids Campus is here.