The Dye school was brimming with optimism and financial security when the doors opened for the new school year in 1961. Just the previous June, the school had finally escaped indebtedness when the mortgage was paid off and burned in the fireplace. The teaching staff was the best the school ever assembled. The school grounds and buildings were groomed and painted and in wonderful condition including an Art Studio and Field House completed in 1960 with funds raised once again by indefatigable parents who staged the Country Fairs, barbecues, puppet shows, and social events.
As the 300 children, faculty, and administrators assembled on November 6, 1961, a column of gray smoke rising above the hills to the north was visible but not threatening. Aunty Cathryn got in touch with the Los Angeles Fire Department and arranged for the school’s bus service to stay parked at the bottom of the hill. While early morning classes were in session, parents were learning of the brush fire that had started at Roscomare Road and Mulholland Highway approximately five miles from the school.
Shortly after 9 A.M. the decision was made to evacuate the school and assemble all the children on the front lawn to load the buses for a trip to the Dye residence in Brentwood. As the last buses and cars loaded with students pulled away from the school at 10:30 A.M., only Aunty Cathryn and Uncle John were left in their beautiful school that they had dreamed about these many years and had seen develop a reputation as one of the outstanding schools of its kind in all the world. Now it was being threatened with fire and destruction. They were heartbroken. Barbara and Price Dickey, who owned the school buses and who had cooperated in this marvelous evacuation, saw the Dyes with heads bowed and told them it was time to leave. They asked them if there were any mementos or belongings they would like to save before they left. Of course, the oil painting of John that hung in the big hall was their first thought. It was, indeed, the first thought of many. Alumni who had seen the school in flames on television often asked, “Did you save John’s portrait?”
Once they had John’s picture, they headed to Brentwood to help get all of the children safely reunited with their parents. Throughout the day radio and television broadcasts reported the progress of the fire. Many children remember watching the school engulfed in flames and were devastated as if it were their very own home that had burned to the ground.
Telephone calls, telegrams, and cablegrams from all parts of the world came to Aunty Cathryn and Uncle John. The Dyes were crushed by events of the day, but they realized how important their schools had been to the students, and this became the inspiration for The John Thomas Dye School to rise again.
The very next day, Aunty Cathryn was in discussions with the Westwood Community Methodist Church on Wilshire Boulevard about the possibility of using their Sunday school building for temporary classrooms for the remainder of the school year. An arrangement with the church was finalized, and The John Thomas Dye School resumed classes the first Monday following the fire. All the preparations were made to carry on the educational program at the new location in less than six days.
The traditions of the Christmas Carols, May Day, and graduation were continued that year on the big lawn at the Dye residence. The active and devoted Mother’s Club knew that this was a time when funds for the rebuilding of the school were greatly needed, and they staged the annual Country Fair on the school playground in late April despite the fact that the whole area surrounding the school had been burned out. The Board of Trustees was engaged in plans for rebuilding the school at the same location and to follow as closely as possible the architectural plan of the original building. By March 1962, new building stakes to mark the project were in the ground. The three buildings, John Dye Hall, the east wing, and the west wing, having been constructed in 1949, 1952, and 1954, were rebuilt in six months and occupied for the opening of the 1962-63 school year.
The Dyes had been for some time considering retirement, and they did so in 1963. When the 1963-64 school year began, it was the first time in thirty-four years that classes of The John Thomas Dye School started without the beloved founders. In April, 1964, Mr. Norman Cagle, a teacher at the school since 1950, was named headmaster. The enthusiasm of the pre-fire days returned to the school under his leadership, as he embodied the philosophy and spirit of the Dye’s legacy. Uncle John passed away in 1969, but Aunty Cathryn continued to remain very involved as a life member of the Board of Trustees. Mr. Cagle resumed teaching for a couple of years when others ran the school, and he had a second tenure as headmaster from 1973 until 1980. Mr. Cagle retired in 1988 after serving the school for thirty-eight years.
Throughout this period the Dye’s vision for a school with a reputation as a leading academic institution, a strong family community, and a safe country setting was a dream brought full circle.
Dreams continued to be turned into realities under the leadership of Raymond Michaud Jr., who became headmaster of the John Thomas Dye School in 1980, after serving as Associate Headmaster from 1978 -1980. As one of his earliest initiatives, he purchased the school’s first computer and received authorization for the development of a computer program. Under Mr. Michaud’s leadership, the east and west wings were remodeled to create better teaching environments, and the Board of Trustees began discussions on a building project to create a gymnasium, library, and art studio on the west side of the lower playing field. The Parents’ Club helped raise the funds for new additions that opened February 1989. Aunty Cathryn was well aware of the newest addition, but her health was not good, and she passed away on September 16, 1989.
Mr. Michaud continuously reviewed the curriculum, which had been enhanced each year under his direction with the expertise of the excellent teaching staffs that had been assembled through the years. Throughout the 1980’s the school became well known as a member of all leading associations of independent schools and an excellent support staff was added to enhance all school programs. Mr. Michaud saw the need for new science, music, and computer classrooms, and in addition to renovations to JTD Hall, those classrooms were completed in 1992. In the summer of 2002, the east and west wing classrooms were extensively remodeled in under three months. This was an accomplishment in the Dye tradition of getting things done under long odds in record time. Mr. Michaud also planned and saw the completion of the MAC center, the Michaud Academic Center, our newest building on campus housing all our 5th and 6th grade classrooms, a kiln room, offices and a teachers' rooom. Before he retired this June, after 35 years of leadership, he planned the renovation of our library which will be completed by September, 2014.
Each year the traditions of Christmas Carols, lighting the candles on the on the school’s birthday cake, and graduation are repeated annually in John Dye Hall where the portrait of John Thomas Dye II still hangs.
The 1,200 graduates of JTD, who have gone on to have successful lives and careers in many different fields, all share one thing in common: deep gratitude to the brave and persevering married couple who had a vision for a school on a hill.