Daniel Louis Pierotti, 84, a social justice activist, retired pastor and arts management consultant, died peacefully on Monday, March 17, 2014 surrounded by family.
Dan was born Oct. 27, 1929 in the nurturing embrace of his parents, the late Marion Becker Pierotti and the late Louis M. Pierotti, and their extended family community in rural Kane.
With the nearby Allegheny Mountains as his playground, Dan grew up enjoying outdoor activities, especially figure skating, and all manner of mischief with his older brothers Jack and Tom.
Dan earned a degree in English from Alfred University in 1952, and graduated from Augustana Theological Seminary in 1956. He was ordained in Moorhead, Minn. in 1956 and took his first assignment as pastor at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Millcreek.
In 1957, Dan married Joan Nelson and three years later moved to Queens, N.Y., where he became pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. There, Dan joined with Rabbi Sam Teitelbaum and Father Joseph Mondell to combat the prevalent and discriminatory practice of blockbusting, and together they were instrumental in getting anti-blockbusting legislation passed.
In 1964, Dan deepened his ministry with a life-changing year of urban studies training run by renowned community organizer Saul Alinsky at the University of Chicago. That year, Dan and his family lived in a North Avenue tenement. As part of his training, Dan spent one week living on the city streets without money or identification. The impact of Alinsky’s training profoundly impacted Dan’s ministry and life-long social activism.
Dan helped organize a group of 36 Chicago clergy to participate in the second Selma to Montgomery march in 1965. He remembered the experience as simultaneously joyous and frightening and recalled walking along with all types of people holding hands and singing spirituals.
Later, Dan became the executive director of the Cooperative Lutheran Parish in Washington D.C., a collaboration of nine churches jointly tackling issues of community change and the civil rights movement. This group became part of the Interfaith Task Force on Civil Rights. Over the course of the next five years, Dan had the honor of working at the center of civil rights campaigns with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Andrew Young, Stokely Carmichael, and Monsignor Geno Baroni, among others.
Every Tuesday for many years Dan participated in secret meetings of a racially-integrated and ecumenical group of clergy organizing against racism and for civil rights. During the late 1960s Dan took a lead role in helping to educate communities in Washington, D.C. and throughout the East Coast about the viability of racial integration. When Dr. King came to the nation’s capital to plan for the Poor People’s Campaign for economic justice, he met with Dan’s clergy group to request logistical help for the campaign, including medical care, food, and facilities.
After Dr. King’s assassination and during the ensuing riots and turmoil in Washington, D.C., Dan’s group turned to the immediate problem of caring for people in crisis. Dan cut through local government red tape to orchestrate transport and distribution of food, clothing, cots, and blankets to the hardest-hit neighborhoods. The first day of the riots, Dan’s shipments fed more than 9,000 people.
Dan’s leadership role expanded to working with 96 Lutheran parishes and myriad interfaith collaborative projects. In the early 1970s, he organized a group of churches to address the growing problem of teenage runaways who needed health care, psychological aid, and housing. In the basement of Georgetown Lutheran Church, Dan opened the second-ever free medical clinic in the country, having found doctors and nurses to donate their services and supplies.
Later Dan became pastor of Georgetown Lutheran where, through innovative educational and jazz music programming, he grew the congregation from 30 people to overflowing and “hanging from the rafters,” as Dan liked to say.
After a divorce, Dan married Judy Weiner in 1978 and moved a year later to Madison, Wis. He changed careers to lead the Wisconsin Association of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse for the next three years. From 1982 until his retirement, Dan reinvented his career one final time to become an arts management consultant with a specialty in theater restoration. He was particularly proud of his work at the Sheldon Auditorium in Red Wing, Minn.; the New Jersey State Theater in New Brunswick, N.J.; and the Morris Auditorium in South Bend, Ind. He also served for a time as interim administrator at the Monroe Street Fine Arts Center in Madison.
In his retirement Dan enjoyed family trips through much of Europe, Mexico, the Caribbean, Japan, and across the United States. In recent years, the family cabin in northwestern Wisconsin became Dan’s special retreat for bird watching, nature observation, pinochle, and crossword puzzles. Books were the best gift for Dan’s voracious literary appetite, but it was always hard for friends and family to find one he had not yet read.
Conversations with Dan were memorable as he was a masterful storyteller. One could count on his stories to include a humorous anecdote, a cautionary tale, a lesson in history, theology, literature, human nature, or social justice, or all of the above. Thankfully, many of Dan’s stories are recorded in an oral and video history he and Judy completed in 2012.
In an Invocation for the 1988 National Honor Society banquet at Madison’s West High School, Dan said: “We must be willing to call upon a God who demands more than to be asked to bless us...a God who demands the most of our humanness... peace and justice, love and ethical behavior, energy and laughter, vision and hope for ourselves and the generations to come. I invoke that spirit and implore that God’s presence here, now. Amen.”
Dan used his unique skills for the betterment of people, communities, and our country. All who knew him were enriched by his compassion, wisdom, and wit. May his memory be for a blessing.
Dan is survived by his wife Judy of Madison, Wis; his children, Eric, Elizabeth (Iku), Ann-Mari (Steve) of Washington, D.C.; Jeremy (Kathryn) of Minneapolis, Minn; Matthew (Jennie) of Madison, Wis; Rachael (Jerry) of Washington, D.C.; and Alexander of Portland, Oreg.; his seven grandchildren who love him to the moon (Isamu, Eliana, Kyle, Amira, Simone, Joshua, and Jesse); and his sister-in-law, Ann Pierotti, of Kane.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Marion and Louis Pierotti; and brothers Jack and Tom Pierotti.
Services will be held on Wednesday, March 19, 2014 at 10 a.m. at Cress Funeral Home, 3610 Speedway Rd., Madison, Wis. 53705. Interment will follow at Natural Path Sanctuary, 2299 Spring Rose Rd., Verona, Wis. 53593. In lieu of flowers, donations appreciated to Jewish Social Services of Madison, Agrace HospiceCare or the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Cress Funeral and Cremation Service, 3610 Speedway Rd., Madison, Wis. is entrusted with funeral arrangements.
Please share your memories at www.CressFuneralService.com .