By the time commencement rolled around, though, his head had won out. He graduated magna cum laude in 1969 with a degree in psychology and a mention in Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities.
In the end, though, both sides ended up winning. Daly is now executive vice president and director of youth care at Boys Town, the national nonprofit group that provides a wide variety of care for boys—as well as girls—and their families in 14 states and the District of Columbia. He not only oversees the organization’s national programs, but he still has dinner with Boys Town families at least once a week. He’s also a frequent visitor to group homes on Boys Town’s campuses.
“I stay around the kids, I talk to them,” he says. “If you give a kid the opportunity, he will find the light.”
As a high school kid, Daly found a mentor in Al Bischoff, S.J., his English teacher at Cincinnati’s Elder High School who later followed Daly to Xavier.
“He nurtured special interests in us,” says Daly. “He was classically educated. He took us to theater, symphony, art museums, and afterwards we’d talk. It gave me a sense of a bigger world, of possibility. Most of all, I developed a love for deep thinking.”
Daly attended Xavier on a football scholarship and responded eagerly to the rigor expected of students. That discipline, augmented by the critical inquiry developed in a philosophy minor, served him well. From Xavier, he went on to earn both master and doctoral degrees from West Virginia University.
“Xavier training gave me an advantage over every graduate student I met,” he says. “And it set me up to be successful at Boys Town. It set me up to think scientifically with moral principles.”
Time and again, Daly returned to the complementary precepts of scientific evidence and human touch.
“In non-profit human services I found the balance of heart and mind.” Daly initially considered a life as a diocesan priest, but his zeal for scholarship pulled him toward advanced study of clinical psychology. At Boys Town since 1975, he has found all the challenges and satisfactions in both vocations. “I’m immensely proud of this work,” he says. “It still stems from the belief of Father Flanagan [founder of Boys Town, 1917] that there’s no such thing as a bad boy or girl. To quote Father Flanagan, ‘There are no bad boys. There is only bad environment, bad training, bad example, bad thinking.’ We added science to the program.”
Scientific acumen is vital when dealing with government agencies and corporate criteria; one has to be ready to defend any proposal with evidence and statistics. Like other businesses, Boys Town has been dealing with the economic downturn. While income has decreased, the number of children served has grown steadily to nearly 16,000 this year.
“We’ve had to reinvent ourselves,” says Daly. “We could tighten up and the organization would do fine, but the kids wouldn’t. The child is always our focus, with an emphasis on the family. Now we’re doing more in-home work.”
When he’s not focusing on the children, Daly can often by found in the gym, golfing, fishing or doing some physical chore at home. Daly lives in a renovated 100-year-old farmhouse in Nebraska’s Loess Hills with his wife Pam, a retired private therapist whom he met in graduate school.
“I made a commitment,” he says. “To keep up with the demands of my schedule, I have to stay in shape physically and mentally. I just read Spark, which is about the impact of exercise on stress. I believe in it.”
Physical and mental fitness; balance of heart and mind; cultural awareness; connections to people, principles, and family—these are truly the ideals that keep Daly in shape. After his mother’s death, he and his father traveled to Ireland.
“It was a maiden voyage for both of us,” he says fondly. He has visited Ireland six times since, in his professional capacity, but has never forgotten that first trip. “Ireland is my personal homeland, and there’s a professional connection too, with Father Flanagan being Irish.”
Both men had integrity, and their lives were an example to Daly. They both cared for their children, and that’s what Dan Daly, using heart and mind, is doing with his.