BY ETHAN FORMAN STAFF WRITER
The Salem News
---- — DANVERS — Dan Bennett said he grew as a leader when he became president of the St. John’s Prep Parents Club while his son, James, attended the private Catholic boys prep school on Spring Street.
“I was recognized as the parent volunteer of the year,” Bennett said of his service from 1998 to 1999. “I found that the Prep was good for my son but also for myself, personally. It just gave me an entree into working with other folks, taking on a leadership role and helping the parents group in the school raise funds.”
Bennett has taken his share of hard political knocks, and that was before he ran a well-fought but unsuccessful campaign for state representative two years ago. He was elected to the Danvers School Committee in 1997, and served as chairman in 2000. That year, he suffered a setback as voters ousted him due to a failed Proposition 2 1/2 override to build a middle school/high school complex on Cabot Road, a project which never came to fruition, and which he regarded with doubt.
After the defeat, Bennett refused to give up and stayed involved in town politics.
Today, he’s two-term selectman, having served as a chairman from 2011 to 2012. He’s also a self-employed real estate broker, a long-time Essex Aggie trustee, and was recently voted an outstanding lieutenant governor of the New England District of Kiwanis.
For the second time in two years, Bennett, the former chairman of the Republican Town Committee, is seeking to oust an entrenched state lawmaker in Danvers Democrat Ted Speliotis.
Bennett, because of his work with Kiwanis and the Board of Selectmen, did not run for the Republican nomination during the primary. This summer, at the urging of supporters, he decided to run an uncontested write-in campaign to get his name on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
Bennett, 62, graduated from Danvers High in 1967. Born in Duxbury and the oldest of seven children, Bennett moved to town when he was a freshman in high school.
Bennett said his family was active politically going back generations. His father, E. Howard Bennett, had started the “Observer” newspaper in Marblehead in the 1950s, Bennett said.
His paternal grandfather, Frank P. Bennett, also worked in publishing. Bennett’s great great grandfather served as a state representative from Everett and Saugus for a total of five terms.
On his mother’s side, his grandfather was a strong influence.
“My grandfather is the person I most admire in life,” Bennett said of his maternal grandfather, James Jenner. “He just instilled in me a work ethic. He sold feed to the local farms throughout New England. This was a farming area years ago. Summers I spent traveling with him making calls to his customers.”
Jenner also served 13 years as a selectman and assessor in Duxbury.
Bennett credits both grandfathers for his work ethic.
“A good leader leads by example,” Bennett said. “It’s not do as I say, it’s do as I do.”
Bennett’s family eventually moved to the North Shore to be closer to the area’s farming community. His mother remarried — Bennett’s father died of a heart attack at age 33, when Bennett was 11 — and moved to Marblehead. Bennett spent a few years there before moving to Danvers.
After graduating Danvers High, Bennett attended Boston University for two years in the late 1960s, then left college to work. He worked for Almy’s department stores for 15 years, becoming an assistant buyer and then a buyer. He spent another 13 years with Rich’s department stores.
“I was there until 1996 when they called us in and said: ‘We are closing the doors,’” Bennett said.
Bennett had an inkling Rich’s was not going to last. In 1994, he got his real estate and broker’s license “because I could see the handwriting was on the wall. I had a Plan B.” He worked for Vernon Martin Real Estate and started his own business in 1999.
When Rich’s recruited Bennett, he moved to Maple Street in Danvers in 1984. In 1999, he moved to Page Street. His real estate office is on a separate building on the property.
In 1993, Bennett got his first taste of town politics when he ran for Town Meeting. While he had always liked the idea of politics, his need to travel for work at Rich’s kept him from being active.
In 1997, he ran for the School Committee amid a push to renovate the high and middle schools.
In 2000 the town tried to move ahead with a debt exclusion override for a single school complex on Cabot Road. Bennett was school board chairman.
“As we all know, that is not welcome by the taxpayers,” Bennett said of the override. He recalled how he had told then-selectmen Chairman Emery Todd that residents wanted to reuse the Holten Richmond school building, but Todd did not listen. The override failed.
“I got, if you will, thrown under the bus because of the debt exclusion,” said Bennett, who was voted out. “And that gives you more personal growth. Failure is a great teaching tool if you live through it.”
In 2002, selectmen recommended Bennett serve as a trustee for Essex Aggie, giving him the opportunity to work on the merger of the agricultural school with North Shore Technical High and Peabody’s high school vocational programs. The $133 million project to build the school is now ongoing. Bennett said some at the Aggie viewed the merger as a hostile takeover, but he was a strong advocate, and that helped overcome some of the animosity.
“I didn’t come with that attitude. I came with the attitude we can do this,” Bennett said.
Bennett was also elected to the board of the Peabody Institute Library of Danvers.
However, Bennett was still aiming for a selectmen’s seat, even though he had lost two prior attempts to get elected in 2002 and 2003. He finally won a seat in 2007, topping the ticket.
Bennett said his grandmother gave him a saying that keeps him going, and which keeps him reaching for the goal of becoming the district’s next state representative.
“My grandmother said: ‘Hitch your wagon to the highest star. You may not get there, but you will get pretty far.’”
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.
Danvers Selectman Dan Bennett Age: 61 Wife: Janet, married 43 years. Education: Danvers High Class of 1967; two years at Boston University, professional training as a licensed real estate broker. Occupation: Owner/broker Dan Bennett Real Estate, former buyer for Rich's and Almy's department stores. Other positions: Danvers School Committee, library trustee, vice chairman of the Affordable Housing Committee, vice chairman of Essex Aggie, Open Space and Recreation Committee, Zoning Board of Appeals and Town Meeting. Children: Three grown children, Laura Bennett-Riley, Adeline Matton and Jim Bennett; four grandchildren: Alex, Sarah, James Jr. and Ava.