Rick Caro called him a “legend.” Greg Herbert called him a “remarkable man.” Zoe Veasey described him as a “breath of fresh air everywhere he went.”
Dale Dibble passed away last month at the age of 90, but his legacy in the health club industry won’t soon be forgotten by those he touched as co-founder of Cedardale Health & Fitness, Haverhill, MA, and as a co-founder of the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association.
“I was in awe of him,” Rick Caro, longtime friend of Dibble and president of consulting company Management Vision, wrote in an e-mail announcing Dibble’s death. “He was so generous in every way. His down-home accent and expressions were so ingratiating. He loved life and literally defied the best hospitals and doctors for almost 20 years by exercising profusely when his arteries and heart were malfunctioning. He loved his wife (Olive Mae), loved his friends—and there were many—and enjoyed all he encountered.”
Herbert, senior manager at Cedardale, worked for Dibble for 15 years. He still works there with current owners Ed and Zoe Veasey.
“He was a remarkable man,” Herbert says of Dibble. “He taught me more about business than I learned going through school. He taught me so much about the health club business. I thought the things he taught me were typical, but I found out that they were unique in the club business.”
Dibble was one of the first club operators to implement a computerized entry system for members, even designing the software that the club used. During the 1980s, he started a class at the club to teach senior members how to use computers. It was a way to get seniors to the club, socializing and then exercising, Herbert says.
“I don’t know if the guy ever slept,” Herbert says. “He would come in with the next idea. Not only would he be able to do that, but you could come to him with any problem—personnel or membership—and he could give you a very good perspective on what we should do. He wasn’t afraid to try things way outside the box. At one time when we were primarily a tennis club, we took one of our most high visibility courts—the one right next to the lounge—and converted it to badminton courts.”
Zoe Veasey says that the partners in Cedardale toured the country a lot looking at what other clubs were doing. Dibble’s background as an engineer was invaluable in quickly drawing up plans to implement any ideas that came from those trips.
“Dale was always very valuable because he could visualize and foresee the changes we had to make and draw the plans and be ready to go,” Veasey says.
Dibble retired about 20 years ago, Veasey says, and didn’t dabble too much in the Cedardale club after that. However, he did get involved in the fitness of the other residents at the Bentley Village, a Classic Residence by Hyatt retirement community in Naples, FL, where he and his wife Olive Mae lived. The couple became involved in the community’s fitness center and helped encourage residents to exercise at the facility. Usage at the club increased from 500 visits a month to 4,000 visits per month, in large part due to the Dibbles’ efforts, according to a 2004 article about Dibble in Pyramid, a quarterly publication of the Cleveland Clinic. In fact, so many residents began exercising that Hyatt had to change its business model because fewer residents were “moving down” to the urgent care facilities on the property as projected, Caro wrote.
Dibble, who had angina, had two heart bypass surgeries in the 1980s and a stenting procedure performed in 2000, according to the article in Pyramid.
“The amazing thing about Dale was how he overcame serious heart disease,” Veasey says. “He lived to be 90 by his wife taking very good care of him and by following a very strict regime.”
Caro wrote that Dibble led the health club industry into computerization and club management software. He created the multi-sport club by converting his plain vanilla indoor tennis building into a multi-sport club. He taught club owners and club members the value of regular change. In addition, Dibble created a seniors’ center within his club, providing computer classes, fitness equipment classes and regular social activities for seniors.
Caro also wrote that Dibble taught many people in the industry without fear of repercussions or fear of educating his future competition.
“He had an infectious attitude, a thirst for learning, a strength in numbers, a huge belief in the team and sharing information, and a commitment to the member experience,” Caro wrote. “He regularly re-invested well in excess of industry norms to provide more. He created an outdoor facility experience and taught us the concept of corporate outings and outdoor facilities for children and the family. He believed in a major emphasis on incentives for key staff for successful performance. The culture he created was envied by all.”
IHRSA named its distinguished service award for Dibble. The award is presented each year to an individual within IHRSA who has excelled in his or her contributions to the industry and to IHRSA.
Dibble is survived by his wife and his son, John. No funeral was held, which didn’t surprise Herbert, who said that Dibble liked to stay in the background.