'He was Depot Town': Ypsilanti resident Tom Dodd remembered as community leader
Ypsilanti resident Tom Dodd played an integral part in restoring the historic Depot Town and did countless things within the community to propel it forward, but it was his magnetic personality that many will remember.
Dodd died from a heart attack Sunday at the age of 78.
AnnArbor.com file photo
"He was Depot Town," said Linda French, Sidetrack Bar and Grill owner and Depot Town Merchants president. "He was instrumental and it would not be what is today if it weren't for him. He was quite the character. He was like a magnet. Everyone would come up to his table. There wasn't a person who didn't like him."
Dodd was a teacher for more than 50 years and founded the Depot Town Rag.
Dodd also served as president of the Depot Town Association and many say he led the restoration of the historic neighborhood. Dodd also served on the Ypsilanti City Council and as Mayor Pro Tem. Dodd also served on the Washtenaw County Historic District Commission and the Riverside Arts Center board.
"He was the one who lobbied the city to shine a light onto Depot Town for the restoration," French said. "Depot Town was once looked down upon. ... He was the glue that kept the Depot Town merchants together. He was a good man."
"He wrote humorous stories and people came from all over just to pick it up," French said, referring to the Depot Town Rag.
In addition to the Depot Town Rag, Kathryn Howard, chair of the Ypsilanti Historical Society, said Dodd did key work for the society. Dodd wrote several stories and features for the Ypsilanti Gleanings, the official publication of the society, and at one point he was responsible for the publication.
"Tom and I have been friends since I can remember," Howard said. "It breaks me up. I worked with him closely there. He was very good in publications and he just knew how to put things together. He could always put it in an interesting way even if the topic was dry."
Howard said she knew Dodd for more than 30 years.
"We were very close," Howard said. "He was fantastic. It's hard to describe Tom because he was just an all around great person. There's only one Tom Dodd and he was a very dear, dear friend of mine."
Howard said he will be greatly missed at the society.
"I don't know anyone around that doesn't know Tom Dodd," Howard said. "It's just something about him. He was a very caring friend."
Heide Otto-Basinger, an Ypsilanti Depot Town resident, has been a close friend of Dodd's family since she was 8 years old. She attended elementary school with Dodd's son, Gregory. Otto-Basinger remembers when Dodd was a teacher and how dedicated he was to his craft.
"He was the kind of teacher that was everyone's favorite," Otto-Basinger said. "He was always outspoken and could give you his opinion without insulting you... It's shocking. I just had breakfast with him Saturday morning."
Otto-Basinger recalled when he dressed up as Susan B. Anthony for a special day at school.
"He was a lot of fun," she said. "He was always happy to see you."
Otto-Basinger said later on in his career, he worked at Ann Arbor's Community High School, where he retired from the arts department. While there, Dodd wrote several things, including a musical that the students performed. Dodd contributed to iSPY Magazine and taught journalism classes at Washtenaw Community College.
Aside from all of the work Dodd did in the community, Otto-Basinger said he was a loving family man, who enjoyed spending time with his wife, Bettie, and his son, Gregory.
"They were childhood sweethearts," Otto-Basinger said. "He was always a joy to have around. He always had a way of making you feel good. He'll be missed by a lot of people. He was just a wonderful person."
Nathalie Edmunds, one of the founders of the Ypsilanti Heritage Festival, worked closely with Dodd over the years. She said he helped start the festival in 1979.
"This is something that has disturbed us all very much," Edmunds said. "I've worked with him personally since at least 1970 or before that and he's been a great friend. He has been a great, great community leader."
Edmunds said Dodd continued to be involved with the festival, even up to this year.
"He worked on so many things that it's hard to keep up with them," Edmunds said. "And it wasn't just a partial involvement, it was a total commitment. Everything Tom did turned out to be so successful."
Although he was 78, French recalls Dodd had a youthful spirit.
"It’s a loss for the whole community, not just Depot Town," French said.
Dodd is survived by his wife, Bettie Dodd, and his son, Gregory Dodd.
A celebration of Dodd's life will be held from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, June 9 at Frenchie's in Depot Town at 54 E. Cross St. According to Dodd's son, speeches in remembrance of his father will begin at 3 p.m.