- Associated Press - Saturday, November 14, 2015

HERMITAGE, Pa. (AP) - No matter where life takes him - New York, Vietnam, Hermitage - 73-year-old Rev. Doug Dayton has always carried a tune around with him.

“When I was eight, my church organist asked me to sing a solo,” Dayton said. “She said, ‘God has blessed you with a beautiful singing voice and you need to use it.’ “

He used it recently as part of the Penn-Ohio Singers’ annual barbershop chorus, and between that and Veterans Day, it was a perfect time for the singer-turned-Air Force veteran-turned Episcopal priest to recall a blessed life of service to God and country and a life full of song.

Dayton is known in these parts for serving 20 years - 17 as rector - at St. John’s Episcopal Church in downtown Sharon. He retired in 2009 and is now a priest for St. Jude’s Episcopal Church, which has three ministries in Greenville, Hermitage and New Castle.

“I love to sing. I enjoy entertaining groups around town. When I first started singing around, I got my little karaoke machine, my career really took off. More than just church singing,” Dayton said.

Dayton grew up in Gowanda, a village of about 2,500 people in southwestern New York.

“It was an idyllic childhood,” he said. His parents were school teachers, and Doug and his four siblings often played outdoors all day until dinnertime.

When he was 12, he was sent on scholarship to spend his sixth- through eighth-grade years at the former Columbus Boychoir School, now known as the American Boychoir School in Princeton, N.J.

Students boarded at the school and went home for holidays. The boys balanced a rigorous musical and academic schedule with intense singing tours around the country.

A young Doug toured with the group for two years and hundreds of performances.

That was the beginning of a singing career that is still going strong.

Dayton graduated from the choir school and headed back home to attend Gowanda High School, where he played football, basketball, baseball and, of course, sang in the choir and glee club.

After graduation in 1960, Dayton decided he would like to follow in his parent’s footsteps. So he went to Buffalo State Teachers College.

“I continued my singing career in college. Some guys and I formed a singing quartet called “The Statesmen,” Dayton said.

After he graduated with a bachelor’s degree, he moved on to Fredonia State Teachers College, earning a master’s in secondary education. Dayton was ready to settle down near home.

“That just wasn’t meant to be,” Dayton said.

God had a different plan for Dayton. One where he would travel and spread his music and faith.

With the Vietnam War and the draft on the horizon, Dayton joined the Air Force as an officer, never dreaming he would serve his country for 20 years.

Three years in, while serving as an education and training officer at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Dayton met a young woman while judging the Miss Lackland AFB pageant.

“She won the contest and she won the judge,” Dayton said of his wife of 46 years, Kathleen.

The couple was married for four months when Dayton was commissioned to Nha Trang air base in Vietnam to serve as an education advisor.

His love of music got Dayton through the year he spent away from his new wife in hostile territory. He and three other soldiers formed “The Tic Toc-ers,” which is Vietnamese for “barbershop quartet.” The quartet entertained officers around the base, a bright spot in a dark year of his life.

“I had felt stirrings of a call when I was in Vietnam with some things that had happened and that developed more and more as I came back to the United States and how God would use me, really,” Dayton said.

But first, Dayton managed to sing his way through the rest of his 20-year military career.

While teaching speech communication at the Air Force Academy from 1971-75, Dayton was the officer assigned to the cadet chorale. He toured with the chorale while they “sang across America,” Dayton said with a nostalgic look in his eye.

They sang in front of the grandstand at President Richard Nixon’s second inaugural parade. They belted out the National Anthem at a Super Bowl.

The years in Colorado Springs were note-worthy for another reason, because he and Kathleen expanded their family there.

“My daughter Rachel and son Aaron were born there in 1973 and 1974. They were the highlight of that tour,” Dayton said.

The Air Force family then moved to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near - fittingly - Dayton, Ohio.

Col. Dayton’s last assignment was as professor of aerospace studies for the Air Force ROTC detachment at Grove City College.

Dayton retired in 1985 from the Air Force. He was awarded the Air Force Meritorious Service Medal, the Bronze Star, Air Force Commendation Medal with two oak leaf clusters, Outstanding Unit Award with “V” device, Vietnamese Honor Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal with four battle stars and Vietnam Service Medal.

God then guided Dayton through seminary - Trinity Episcopal Seminary in Ambridge, from which he graduated with a master’s of divinity in 1989 - and on to ordination as an Episcopal priest in 1991.

He came to St. John’s as the new assistant and spent 20 years there in what he fondly refers to as his second career.

“It was a wonderful church to have a chance to lead and to work with some very dear, dear people who I miss,” Dayton said. “Serving as a priest in the church, I’ll never forget it.”

Dayton lives in Hermitage with his wife Kathleen.

They have four grandchildren, Darius and Lucia Parakh, and Parker and Zoe Dayton.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1SDzxT4

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Information from: The Herald, https://www.sharon-herald.com

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