Presidents come and go, but one constant has been Dale Haney, the chief White House groundskeeper, who is celebrating 50 years of service to the families — and many of their pets — who have called the mansion home.
The vast lawns, colorful flower gardens, hundreds of trees, thousands of shrubs, and thriving vegetable garden on 18 acres of property surrounding the White House are Haney’s primary responsibilities. Every year, he selects the official White House Christmas tree, and he has already chosen this year’s fir from a Pennsylvania farm.
But many in the White House, from staff to Secret Service agents, know Haney as the keeper of the president’s pets.
Haney is frequently seen walking Commander, President Joe Biden’s German shepherd.
Walters recalled the chaos of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the evacuation of the White House while President George W. Bush was in Florida. Despite the evacuation, Walters and some of his staff remained. When Walters turned around on the South Lawn, “there was Dale standing with Barney under one arm and Kitty Cat under the other.”
Anyone starting a career today is unlikely to still be doing so a half-century later, but Haney’s extensive work history fits right in at the White House.
He’s part of the operations team, which includes dozens of housekeepers, butlers, electricians, carpenters, gardeners, and others who aren’t involved in policy or politics. Their job is to keep the establishment running and to look after the families. Many people work for the same company for decades.
Irv Williams, Haney’s predecessor as grounds superintendent, also worked for 50 years after starting in the Dwight Eisenhower administration.
When he began working at the White House in 1972, during Richard Nixon’s presidency, Haney intended to stay for only two years. He had a bachelor’s degree in horticulture and wanted to return to school to further his education.
He was interning in the gardens at the Dumbarton Oaks Museum in Washington when the White House called to see if he could help with grounds maintenance. He interviewed and began working as a gardener for the National Park Service, which looks after the White House grounds, six months later.
Haney worked his way up from foreman to chief horticulturist before being promoted to grounds superintendent in 2008, making him a member of the White House residence staff. Haney reports to the chief usher and manages a team of 12 full-time gardeners, maintenance workers, electricians, and plumbers.
“It has been easy to forget that time is passing,” he and his team are so busy. Every day is unique, and no two days are alike.”
Haney, who turns 71 on Nov. 4, has seen gobs of White House history unfold:
Nixon departing the White House by helicopter after he resigned in 1974. President Jimmy Carter overseeing the signing of a landmark peace treaty between Egypt and Israel in 1979.
In 1994, a small plane crashed on the grounds. The 9/11 evacuation. President Barack Obama’s 2009 “beer summit” In 2020, President Donald Trump will host portions of the Republican National Political Convention on the South Lawn.
50 years of Easter Egg Rolls and numerous state arrival ceremonies for world leaders, including three visits by Queen Elizabeth II and three different popes. Another state visit is planned for France’s president on December 1.
On November 19, Biden’s granddaughter Naomi will marry on the South Lawn.
The grounds are sometimes used by first families to leave a lasting impression on the White House.
Haney most recently assisted Melania Trump in adding a tennis pavilion to the south grounds and renovating the Rose Garden.
Haney also assisted Michelle Obama in the creation of her 1,100-square-foot “kitchen garden,” which is still sprouting a variety of vegetables, fruit, and herbs. Honey is produced by beehives.
Jill Biden announced Haney’s milestone in public service by tweeting a photo of him with her, the president and Commander in Chief, in the Oval Office.
Haney was one of the first people Debra Dunn met after being assigned to the White House visitor’s office following the elder Bush’s election in 1989.