By Julia Kohn
Board Member, Harbor Area Farmers Markets
For more than four decades, the Rev. Dale C. Whitney has served as a cornerstone in the foundation of Long Beach’s ecumenical movement for peace and social justice. Born in Nebraska in 1942, he grew up in California, graduating from Santa Barbara High School in 1960. His non-traditional academic preparation as a zoology major at Pomona College in the early ‘60s may have foreshadowed his eventual path to his current role as manager for the Harbor Area Farmers Markets. He later earned a bachelor’s of divinity from San Francisco Theological Seminary in 1968, and then his master’s of theology from the same institution. He served for approximately two years as an assistant pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Santa Paula, before accepting a call to become the pastor of the Geneva Presbyterian Church in Long Beach in 1971.
As pastor of Geneva Presbyterian Church, Dale not only provided spiritual support and guidance to a thriving congregation and a large extended network of church friends for 18 years, he also became a core leader of Southern California’s nascent ecumenical social-justice movement. He made his debut as the “new kid on the block” by preaching at the ecumenical Thanksgiving Eve service at the Belmont Heights Methodist Church. Under his leadership, Geneva Presbyterian became home for Long Beach’s progressive community organizations, including among others Long Beach Housing Action, Long Beach Area Citizens Involved, the Alliance for Survival, and the Seal Beach Nuclear Action Group.
In the 1970s, Dale worked with a major social-services center for the Latino community in east Long Beach and helped start the Long Beach Food Bank. Beginning in 1976, his involvement with hunger issues led him to become a member and then coordinator of the Long Beach Area Church World Service/CROP Hunger Walk. The latter project has not only raised countless thousands of dollars for Long Beach area homeless shelters and food banks, it has also financially supported the worldwide disaster relief, agricultural development, and refugee resettlement work of Church World Service.
In 1977, Dale’s involvement with the South Coast Ecumenical Council, forerunner of today’s South Coast Interfaith Council, led him to join Olivia Herrera on the original Centro Shalom program board as the representative of the local Presbyterian churches. This was the beginning of a nearly 25-year run as president of that board. He continues to serve as a key member who provides institutional memory, sage advice and strategic donations to resolve fiscal emergencies.
After completing his service as pastor of Geneva Presbyterian Church in 1989, Dale became the manager of the Harbor Area Farmers Markets, providing greater Long Beach with access to fresh, low-cost, nutritional produce in six market locations. In addition, he serves as an active member of the First Congregational Church of Long Beach, where he sings with the choir, has led Bible studies and provides leadership to committees focused on opposition to the use of torture and other human-rights violations by the United States government, and peaceful solutions to world problems.
The description of Dale’s service to his community is impressive. For over 40 years, he has been a member of the Protestant Campus Ministries Advisory Board at California State University Long Beach. He has been active with the Long Beach Ministerial Association, the Interfaith Clergy Council and the Interreligious Association of Greater Long Beach. He was also a volunteer chaplain at Long Beach Community Hospital for more than five years.
Dale is decidedly cosmopolitan in his openness to dialogue among faiths and has been one of the most important advocates of interfaith action since his arrival in Long Beach. His engagement in this area extends even to playing on the Geneva Presbyterian Church softball, basketball and volleyball teams throughout the ’70s and ’80s. He is a well-read scholar on a wide range of topics– a true Renaissance man. Many would say his most outstanding quality is his deep compassion for others, which has led him to offer shelter in his own home to many needy people and to reach out to help those in distress wherever he meets them, in whatever way he is able.
Centro Shalom will honor Whitney during a special event on Saturday, Oct. 26 at the Long Beach Petroleum Club. For more information, visit centroshalom.org/en/in-the-news/74-centro-fundraiser .