American presidents come and go through the White House. But one man has served there for the last fifty years, alongside ten presidents, their families and even their dogs and cats.
He is Dale Haney, the chief White House groundskeeper.
Haney’s main responsibility is to care for the grounds, flower gardens, hundreds of trees, thousands of plants and a growing vegetable garden. He also chooses the official White House Christmas tree every year. Haney has already identified this year's tree at a Pennsylvania farm.
This week, President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, surprised Haney by planting a tree in his name on the grounds he has cared for these many years.
At a planting ceremony in Haney’s honor, Biden said that future visitors to the White House are “going to be looking at this tree and asking, ’Who’s Dale?”
In answer, Haney joked that he “might still be here.”
Haney is perhaps better known to many at the White House as the keeper of the president’s pets. These days, Haney is often seen walking Commander, the Bidens’ German shepherd dog.
“The first thing that I think about when I think about Dale is his relationship with the first family’s animals,” said Gary Walters, who has served under four presidents in 20 years as White House chief usher.
Walters spoke of Haney's service during the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. An order was issued to evacuate the White House while President George W. Bush was in Florida. Walters said, “and there was Dale standing with Barney [the dog] under one arm and Kitty Cat under the other.” The two animals were then reunited with first lady Laura Bush in a safe area.
A two-year plan
Haney was training to work in the gardens at a museum in Washington in 1972 when the White House called. The administration was looking for a groundskeeper.
He took the job during Richard Nixon’s presidency and planned to stay for just two years. He had a bachelor’s degree in horticulture and wanted to go back to school to continue his studies.
“When I accepted the job I agreed to stay for two years,” he said in an interview with White House History Quarterly, a publication of the White House Historical Association. “But the time has gone by so fast that it really doesn’t feel like 50 years," Haney said.
He and his team are so busy that, in his words, “it has been easy to forget that time is passing. No day is ever the same and every day brings challenges.”
Eyewitness to history
Haney, who turns 71 on November 4, has witnessed many historic events at the house:
He watched Nixon leave the White House by helicopter after he resigned in 1974. He saw President Jimmy Carter overseeing the signing of a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel in 1979. And then there was the plane crash on the White House grounds in 1994, and the evacuation on 9/11.
Haney also was around for President Barack Obama’s “beer summit” in 2009 and President Donald Trump’s hosting of the Republican National Convention on the South Lawn in 2020.
He walked the grounds for fifty years of the White House Easter Egg Roll. And there were state arrival ceremonies for world leaders, including three visits by Queen Elizabeth II and three different popes.
And Haney will be there when the White House ground will hold a wedding on November 19 for Biden’s granddaughter Naomi
Working with first ladies
First families sometimes work with Haney on projects involving the White House grounds.
Most recently, he helped Melania Trump add a structure by the tennis court and redo the famous Rose Garden.
“His meticulous attention to detail always ensures and preserves the beauty of the White House grounds for many to enjoy,” she told The Associated Press.
Haney also helped Michelle Obama create her garden which continues to provide vegetables, fruits and herbs for the White House.
Laura Bush called Haney “the best friend to all the animals.” She told the AP that the Bush family dogs “loved him more than they loved us.”
Former President Barrack Obama and his wife, Michelle, sent Haney a letter thanking him for bringing his “passion” and “expertise” to the difficult job of caring for the White House grounds.” They added: “We will also never forget how wonderfully you cared for Sunny and Bo,” the family’s dogs.
“Indeed, you have made and lived history,” Bill and Hillary Clinton and daughter Chelsea wrote in a note to Haney, which they shared with the AP.
Haney was one of the first people Debra Dunn met after she was put in charge of the White House visitor’s office under President George Bush in 1989.
Easter came early that year, she said, and only one member of her small office had experience planning events for 30,000 people. But Haney talked her through some of the planning and set her up her with some workers who could help.
Dunn remembered how she also worried about the setting for a Halloween event. Haney told her about a large pumpkin from a past celebration that was sitting in storage.
“How would I have known that existed?” she said in a telephone call with the AP. “He was just my guiding star.”
This week, first lady Jill Biden announced Haney’s 50-years of public service by tweeting a picture of him visiting with the president and her in the world-famous Oval Office.
I’m Andrew Smith. And I’m Caty Weaver.
Darlene Superville reported this story for The Associated Press. Hai Do adapted the story for Learning English.
Words in This Story
garden - n. an area of ground where flowers or vegetables are grown
pet - n. animal
usher - n. an officer or person who assist a household
museum - n. a building to keep valuable collection to be shown to the public
challenge - n. a difficult task or problem
meticulous - adj. very careful about doing something
preserve - v. to keep something in its original state or good condition
passion - n. strong feeling or enthusiasm about something