Freshly graduated from what was then Bridgewater State Teachers College, V. James DiNardo headed north in 1939 to Bethel, Vt., where he taught in a one-room schoolhouse.
Work did not end when the class bell sounded. He also was the school’s principal, coach, and janitor. The experience provided an education that he passed along in the years ahead.
“Dad taught his children and others by example,’’ said his son, Lawrence of Hanover. “As executive vice president at Bridgewater, he greeted every cafeteria worker and janitor in the building on the way to the executive offices.’’
Dr. DiNardo, a former dean of undergraduate studies at what is now Bridgewater State University, died Nov. 4 in West Acres Rehabilitation & Nursing Center in Brockton of complications of heart and lung disease.
He was 94 and lived in Bridgewater.
For years, he held a variety of positions at the college, teaching education, directing summer sessions in Hyannis, and serving as treasurer of the alumni association.
“I think Dr. DiNardo really dedicated his life professionally to Bridgewater, and it has made such a difference,’’ said Dana Mohler-Faria, the university’s president.
“He was an inspiration, somebody who demonstrated commitment, enthusiasm, and passion for the Bridgewater community and was supportive of people at all levels, which is a mark of a good administrator.’’
Dr. DiNardo rose to become executive vice president, and in 1989 the university opened V. James DiNardo hall in his honor. In 1984, the Bridgewater Alumni Association established the Dr. V. James DiNardo Award for Excellence in Teaching.
Born in Braintree, Dr. DiNardo graduated from Quincy High School in 1935. During his undergraduate years at Bridgewater, he played varsity basketball, was captain of the soccer team, directed the a cappella choir, and joined Kappa Delta Phi fraternity.
In 1940, he graduated from Boston University with a master’s in education and spent a year teaching in the Quincy public schools before joining the Army.
While stationed in Fort Lewis, Wash., he met Norene Blecha, a USO director. They married in September 1944, and a week later Dr. DiNardo was sent to the Aleutian Islands off Alaska, where he remained until the end of World War II.
“It was awfully hard,’’ his wife said. “I continued working at the USO, and that kept me going, but our only communication was by letter. We both wrote each other every day, sometimes twice. I still have more than 600 handwritten letters from him.’’
After four years in the Army, Dr. DiNardo returned to the Quincy public schools, where he served as principal at three elementary schools and persuaded district administrators to establish kindergarten.
In 1957, he began working as principal of Bridgewater’s teacher training elementary school and ultimately was promoted to dean of undergraduate studies.
Three years after starting at Bridgewater, he received his doctorate in education from Boston University.
As a youth, Dr. DiNardo was involved with the YMCA in Quincy and served as a counselor and director of Camp Burgess, the boys’ camp the organization founded on Cape Cod. He later was president of Quincy’s YMCA.
David J. Keefe, chief executive of Atlantic Broadband, was a camper at Camp Burgess when he met Dr. DiNardo. Their paths crossed again when Dr. DiNardo was a dean at Bridgewater.
“Jim DiNardo was my friend and mentor, and in the summer of 1969 he saved my life,’’ Keefe said. “It was a time of great puzzlement and unrest in America, our country was in a terrible war in Vietnam . . . and I’d managed to flunk out of Bridgewater.’’
After learning what happened, Dr. DiNardo asked Keefe to stop by his office. Dr. DiNardo needed people to help build a theater program and convinced him to make another attempt at school, Keefe recalled.
“I was a risky choice, a bad actor even, but clearly available,’’ said Keefe, who returned to the college and was “studying for the first time in a long time.’’
A few months later, when I brought my four A’s and a B to Jim for review, he simply stated, ‘I knew you could do it if you applied yourself,’ ’’ Keefe said.
Dr. DiNardo retired from Bridgewater in 1983 and then worked for the State Department conducting graduate teacher training for American schools in Rome, Brazil, and Costa Rica.
His children said that despite his obligations to work and service organizations, he devoted considerable time to home life.
“Dad always had time for his family and was so proud of our accomplishments,’’ said his daughter, Laura Fox of Hysham, Mont. “He gave us the freedom to choose and never tried to interfere. He supported us in all we did.’’
Dr. DiNardo’s son said that among the lessons he learned from his father was how to garden.
“Although he frequently was out nights as a public school principal or college administrator, we were always together as a family at dinner time,’’ his son said.
“And when I reached the age of 10, my dad showed me how to plant and maintain a garden at our home. I’ve kept a garden at my home ever since then for 50 years.’’
A service has been held for Dr. DiNardo, who in addition to his wife and two children leaves two sisters, Anna Cuscianna and Marie King, both of Quincy; five grandchildren; and three step-grandchildren.
Despite the demands of his career, Dr. DiNardo “was extremely helpful around the house and helped out even if it meant staying up late to finish his work,’’ his daughter said.
“He loved my mother so much,’’ she added.
“We just had a happy time together,’’ Dr. DiNardo’s wife said. “In all the years we were married he never once said an unkind word to me. His first love was his family, but he was indefatigable. He constantly told me and the children he loved us and showed us all the time.’’
At times, she said, “I’ve grabbed his robe and his sweaters and hugged them and the tears come. I’ll miss his presence most because we talked about everything.’’
Laurie D. Willis can be reached at email@example.com.