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Front Page » August 28, 2007 » Local News » Friends and family celebrate the life of fallen rescuer D...
Published 3,468 days ago

Friends and family celebrate the life of fallen rescuer Dale Black

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Lannie Sitterud, brother-in-law of Dale Black shoots his arrow in honor of Bird at the funeral in Huntington Canyon on Aug. 21.

A great hero of the Crandall Canyon mine disaster was laid to rest on Aug. 21. Dale Black more commonly known as "Bird," was honored at the funeral held at Bear Creek Campground in Huntington Canyon. Dale's brother-in-law Pastor Carl Sitterud officiated at the funeral. Guy Black, brother, read a poem and then opened the service with a prayer. The poem told of a coal miner named Bird who was one of the best in the business. He went in to rescue those trapped in the mine. Bird was a good friend, father and husband. Heroes make the best angels.

Ashley Pruitt, daughter, paid tribute to her Dad. She said it was an honor to talk about her Dad. "It's hard to describe how good he was. We have done more as a family in the past 23 years than most people do in a lifetime. Thanks for all the compassion and love you've shown our family. Our Dad always took care of our family. We will be strong and hold together. Dad always put others before himself. He was not afraid of work, it couldn't be half-assed. He worked hard to support our family. Life is too short to be mad at others. He loved the outdoors. He couldn't sleep in on his days off. We were always camping, fishing, rafting, 4-wheeling or sleeping out on the lawn. We will miss his antics. He was always saying, 'What do you think about this?'

"He worked hard for the trapped miners. He never gave up hope and was there to help. On Aug. 16, we lost one of the greatest men ever put on earth," said Pruitt.

Allen Childs said, "It is a great honor and privilege to be asked to say a few words of tribute and praise to a good friend. I came early and it was awesome to watch friends and co-workers come in to pay their respects to Dale. Dale would be grateful. We live in a pretty great state and it's great the governor of our state sacrificed his time and energy to honor our good friend Dale. It is a great state with great traditions," said Childs.

He said the Bear Creek Campground has special meaning and feelings for him. It was often the site of the company parties for Genwal. He worked with Dale at Genwal when it had 40 employees and then 93. "It was like a large family. That is evident here today. We would have raffles and drawings and I can still remember Dale giving out the items. Rodney Cox always won the biggest gift, but every year Dale would park his truck with the tail gate down, he was always hopeful," said Childs. Dale always put up the volleyball net for combat volleyball, he would look with disgust at anyone not willing to dive for a ball on the concrete. Genwal built a new volleyball court here at Bear Creek with sand where everyone could dive and make Dale proud. The boss played against Dale the first year he was there and then the next year, he made sure he was on Dale's team," said Childs.

A display of photos of Dale Black and his favorite things at the funeral.

Childs said that meeting outdoors for Dale's funeral was very appropriate. "Dale lived life at a higher sphere. He lived life on steroids. He was 48 years old in dog years. He was a great man who loved his family. I can't look at Corey without being reminded of Dale, and he acts just like him. Corey will be exceptionally successful from what his father has taught him. Often in the coal mines we don't always talk about families. We talk about more macho things, taught him. Often in the coal mines we don't always talk about families. We talk about more macho things, but be proud of the legacy he left you and his love for you is eternal. When I left Genwal I was given a book of photos of great friends. I look back through that book and everyone brings great joy to my life. What a great opportunity to work with such fine men. At the time of the accident, I was surprised it happened at Genwal mine, but I was not surprised at the effort everyone put forth with zeal and zest to save their fellow miners. I was not surprised Dale Black was in the thick of things. He probably didn't need to be there, but he was, that was Dale being Dale. In John 13:15 it reads, 'Man hath no greater love than this that he laid down his life for his friends.' The ultimate sacrifice was given by Dale and others. They laid down their lives for their friends. There is no higher compliment," said Childs.

Childs mentioned the guest book that went along with the obituary for Dale. He read one of these comments from the family of Gary Jensen who also died in the mine rescue. He had been a miner all his life and joined MSHA about a year ago. The Jensen family wrote, "Our thoughts and prayers are with you, though we don't know each other. We will always be tied together."

"That's how our area is. It's nice to have the opportunity to come together and enjoy that community and tie," continued Childs.

"Dale's career was coal mining. He chose to work in a coal mine. He chose to work in the mining industry. The coal industry is often maligned and misunderstood. People encourage their kids to go to college so they don't have to work in a coal mine. But, I have never been around a more intelligent, generous, kind and caring group of people than those who choose to work in a coal mine. They share a fraternity like firemen, police officers and the military. They are a band of brothers. Their badge of honor is a nickname. All coal miners have nick names. These names include: Moose, Spad, Bird, Flash, Mudflap, Mongrel, Two Dogs, Dick, Baggins, and many more I can't mention here. The coal miners come across their names honestly. We referred to Dale as Bird. That was his moniker. He was always Bird. He was an outside the box thinker. He was always thinking. Some of it was not always constructive, but his mind was always active.

"The Judge, (nickname) would have to listen to Dale thinking outside the box loudly. He vocalized his thinking, but once Dale got to the section. He left the kitchen immediately and went to work. He could operate that miner in his sleep and Judge sometimes said he did. He was a dynamic leader by action. The engineering department would lay out the cross cuts. Dale despised the engineering department. They would come into the mine and set the sights, and that was the direction that operator would drive the tunnel. Dale always figured he didn't need the surveyors sights and he could turn the angles without that system set-up by the engineers. 'I just can,' he would say and he could.

"Dale Black was on sight and on target. He knew where he wanted to be and where he wanted to go. One time we happened to go to the same place where Dale was riding 4-wheelers. We would just relax and go along and look at things. We didn't know we were supposed to drive 65 mph. Things with Dale were always better, bigger and faster. He was always at the front leading and he was always at the end of the line checking on everyone and picking up cans and bottles and garbage. He was an environmentalist. He was a good golfer, he could drive the ball a mile and he would let you know for 18 holes that he could drive farther than you.

Family friend Allen Childs speaks at the funeral of Dale Black.

"Wendy said Dale was a handsome man. But in the coal mine we decided Spad was the most handsome. There are 650 Japanese people running around Japan who came to Genwal and they met the most handsome man in the U.S., which was Spad.

"One day Dale showed up for an 8 a.m. tee time at 7:55 a.m. and his hair was all messy. He said Wendy was cutting his hair and he couldn't wait for her to finish or he'd be late. So he came to the golf course with his hair half cut.

"Dale loved to fish. One day he was fishing with Lannie and Lannie held the record for the largest walleye at that time. Dale brought one in that looked to be larger than Lannie's fish. Lannie was holding the fish so Dale could get a picture and the fish must of slipped or flipped and it fell into the lake. We called that Lannie being Bird.

"I could go on and on telling stories. It's very difficult to look out and see these fine men. I am a better person for having contact with them. I am forever grateful to them. When you work in the mine, you feel a responsibility for your men and fellow workers. The worst thing in the mine is to receive a phone call in the middle of the night.

"Bird would call me about 1 a.m. at home and he would say, 'Al, I did good today. The crew mined 200 cars. I just thought you would want to know.' I would like to return that favor today. Bird, you did good and we just wanted you to know. On Aug. 16 we lost a hero and Bird flew into the arms of our Father in heaven and heaven received a hero," said Childs.

Pastor Carl Sitterud presides over the service for his brother-in law Dale Black.

Pastor Carl said in Proverbs it says a man's good name is better than riches. "I am proud to be connected to this strong man. He showed his character. He had several nicknames, Bird, Tree Top, Little Bird, Black Bird, Bird Dog. There was no one more loved than Dale. He lived life to the fullest. He loved his kids. His children were his success. They are two of the most caring and kind people. His children have many of his attributes.

"Dale was a wonderful father and husband. He met my sister, Wendy when she was 12. He loved her since she was 15. Theirs was a true love story. Dale loved her, he adored her and Wendy loved him, he was the love of her life.

"There were no strangers to Dale, he was a man of integrity. He was willing to step in when others were fearful. He did things for others benefit and made a good name for his family. Today we celebrate Dale, his name will endure for a long time.

"Dale's life was more precious than wealth and gold. He paid the highest price of all the sacrifice of his life for a friend. He is a hero. Only heroes give their life for others. We will miss him, we will never forget him. He left a most valuable gift. A good name is a wonderful legacy," said Pastor Carl.

In honor of Dale, his bowhunting friends shot arrows into the air. Dale loved bowhunting and his death occurred two days before the season opened.

Dale Black was laid to rest in the Huntington Cemetery.

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