In recognition of his steadfast loyalty and dedication to Taft, John Dayton ’64 will be honored with the 2024 Horace Dutton Taft Alumni Medal. The Medal is given each year to a person whose life work best reflects the essence of the Taft School motto: Non ut sibi ministretur sed ut ministret; Not to be served but to serve.
“John Dayton ’64 exemplifies our school’s motto, Not to be served but to serve, in multiple ways,” said John Merrow II ’59, chair of the Horace Dutton Taft Alumni Medal Committee. “Throughout his life, John has given back, serving his community, his country, and his school. Taft has many outstanding graduates who are deserving of the school’s highest honor, the Horace Dutton Taft Alumni Medal, but none more worthy than John Dayton.”
After graduating from Taft in 1964, Dayton returned to his home state of Minnesota to attend the University of Minnesota at Morris. He graduated with a double major in English and speech and then joined the university’s staff, serving as the assistant director of admissions and teaching undergraduate speech. His teaching career was interrupted in 1969 by two years of service in the military. With his military commitment completed, Dayton returned to his position at the University of Minnesota and then matriculated at the Texas Tech University School of Law in Lubbock, where he was a distinguished scholar, serving as an editor of the law review and graduating third in his law school class.
Following law school graduation, Dayton remained in Texas, joining the Dallas firm of Thompson, Knight, Simmons & Bullion, where he specialized in real estate law. After nearly a decade of active practice, he resigned from the firm and entered the restaurant business, opening Routh Street Cafe in Dallas. The restaurant’s five-star rating consistently kept it on the list of the nation’s premier restaurants. Dayton followed the success of his first restaurant with others: Baby Routh in Dallas and Goodfellow’s and Tejas in Minneapolis, consistently recognized as the Twin Cities’ premier dining establishments. He also opened a wholesale bakery and a hospitality consulting firm in Minneapolis.
Dayton has been a devoted champion of the arts, serving as chair of the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts and chair and president of the board of the Dallas Opera, as well as on the boards of the Minnesota Orchestra, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Dallas Symphony, Bravo Vail, and the advisory boards of the Nasher Sculpture Center and Minnesota’s Walker Art Center. He was recognized for his extensive support of the arts in Dallas with the Neiman Marcus Silver Cup Award, bestowed annually upon one man and one woman “who believe in the power and beauty of art and have given selflessly to promote the excellence and accessibility of the arts in the Dallas community.”
Dayton is the immediate past-chair of Defenders of Wildlife, a national conservation organization dedicated to the protection and restoration of imperiled species and their habitats throughout North America. He also has served as chair of the Dallas County Youth Village, a residential treatment facility for juvenile offenders; as an executive committee member of the Dallas Zoological Society; and as a board member of ChildCare Dallas. He is on the advisory board of the Texas Women’s Foundation and is a trustee emeritus of the University of Minnesota Foundation. He has been a trustee of the Hockaday School, the Eaglebrook School, and Taft, where he was a member of the board for 25 years.
In 2008, Dayton and his late wife, Arlene, were recognized with the Dallas Historical Society Award for Excellence in Community Service. In 2009, the couple was jointly awarded the Dallas Contemporary’s Legends Award for philanthropic service.
Widowed in 2017, Dayton has two grown children who are Taft graduates, Chad ’93 and Whitney ’97.
“John is a true embodiment of dedication to community,” said Head of School Peter Becker ’95. “His contributions to the arts reveal his deep appreciation for and dedication to cultural enrichment. John’s philanthropic endeavors—serving on various boards, including several private schools as well as Taft—reflect his commitment to positively impacting people. We are so grateful for his years of service on Taft’s board of trustees and for his contributions in chairing the board’s admissions committee. Cheers to John—he is a true champion of the arts and a beacon of community service!”
The Horace Dutton Taft Alumni Medal is the school’s highest alumni honor and is given each year to a person whose life work best typifies the school motto: Not to be ministered unto but to minister. The Horace Dutton Taft Alumni Medal is a reminder of Taft’s commitment to serve others.