History & Traditions

History & Traditions

The story of John and Cathryn Dye, Aunty Cathryn and Uncle John, as they came to be affectionately called by their students, is a story of love, loss and tenacity of which The John Thomas Dye School is the extraordinary legacy.
People’s most vivid memories of our founders, Aunty Cathryn and Uncle John, are their great personal warmth and their pioneering spirit.
Aunty Cathryn and Uncle John established a first-rate program while cultivating a culture founded on the principles of humility, gratitude, and simplicity.
This basic philosophy has enabled the school to develop an atmosphere that stresses the right of each individual to be different and unique while developing confidence, mutual respect, and a degree of cooperation, allowing the student to strive for higher academic achievement, to develop empathy for others, and to grow in self-esteem.

Theirs was a mix of intellectual engagement, family values, and personal commitment that continue to define the school today, years after it first opened its doors first in Brentwood and later in the hills of Bel Air. They persevered and succeeded despite great personal loss: the death of their only child, John Thomas Dye III (after whom the school was named) in World War II and the 1961 Bel Air fire that destroyed the school. The John Thomas Dye School has overcome any challenges it has faced because of the support of generations of families who have acted with fortitude, determination, and dignity in the spirit of its founders.

List of 3 items.

  • Brentwood Town and Country School 1929-1948

    Cathryn Robberts Dye and John Thomas Dye II were raised in the Midwest in the early 1900s, she in Iowa and he in Indiana. Both came from close families with strong ties to education in New England and the Midwest. Cathryn graduated from the University of Iowa intending to become an architect and an interior designer. John graduated from University of Wisconsin planning to be a farmer. He majored in agriculture in hopes of managing his father’s 300-acre ranch in Montana. One summer vacation while en route to the ranch, he stopped off at Davenport, Iowa, to visit a cousin. While there, he met and was very much impressed with a young woman named Cathryn Robberts. They were married shortly thereafter. Then came World War I.

    John received an appointment to one of the newly planned Officers Training Camps and was sent as a lieutenant to the fighting front in France. Cathryn spent the war with her family in Davenport working in a county defense office helping place workers in war industry plants. They were united at war’s end. Their son, John Thomas Dye III, was born January 24, 1923. Soon thereafter the family moved across the country to join other relatives in Santa Monica, California.
    Aunty Cathryn often took their son Johnny and some of his friends to the beach in Santa Monica on summer days and read them stories and supervised their play in the sand. Her reading and caretaking were greatly appreciated by other mothers. They all loved “Aunty” Cathryn, and these joyful experiences prompted some of the mothers to ask her why she didn’t start a school of her own and work with the children all year round instead of just in the summer.

    So in February, 1929, after renovations were completed on their spacious home on San Vicente Boulevard near 26th Street, Aunty Cathryn and Uncle John opened the Brentwood Town and Country School. Every day began with a salute to the flag and the Sanskrit reading, "Salutation of the Dawn." The school had a large playing area, army cots for naps, and a living room with a large fireplace for morning assembly. The school quickly became a special place for many local families and served them through nearly three decades. It was, however, never easy. The Dyes were not wealthy people, and they struggled to keep the school open during the Depression and World War II. Their son John was one of the first graduates, and he went on to graduate with honors from Pomona College. Throughout these years, the many families who treasured their educational and familial experiences at the school urged Aunty Cathryn and Uncle John to expand into the higher grades and to find a larger property at another location.

    The Dyes had, in fact, a dream of building a school on a hill and thought their dream would come true when in 1941 land became available in Bel Air at Mulholland and Sepulveda. However, the dream was not to be as World War II intervened, and development plans were abandoned. The shadows were cast much wider and darker for Aunty Cathryn and Uncle John when John Thomas Dye III, serving as a navigator, was shot down on a flight over Austria in 1945. The tragic death of their only child broke their spirit and confidence, and for a couple of years it was not clear whether the Brentwood campus would continue.

    Meanwhile, families who had shared Aunty Cathryn’s dream continued to meet and discuss a future for a larger school run by the Dyes. A search committee was formed, and 155 acres of undeveloped land was found on the horseshoe ridge of Linda Flora Drive and Chalon Road. This huge undertaking, involving scraping off the tops of the hillsides, caused suits and countersuits. It appeared the entire project would fall through. The Dyes were emotionally and financially devastated. They mortgaged their home, sold everything they had inherited or acquired, and borrowed against every remaining asset. They enjoyed the loyalty and support of the families whose children had been taught at Brentwood Town and Country School, and when the legalities were untangled, the Dyes got eleven acres including the school site, and the project was back on track.
  • Bel Air Town and Country School 1949-1961

    The new Bel Air Town and Country School opened February 1, 1949, on Chalon Road in a brick and frame building now called John Dye Hall. About sixty-five Bel Air students who had been temporarily housed in the Brentwood School since September in anticipation of the opening were moved to the new location. The bare, rocky surroundings of the brush-trimmed hillsides in Bel Air and the rough muddy roads and dirt playing areas were quite a contrast to the green lawns of Brentwood and the beautiful trees and flowers that Uncle John had planted around the Brentwood Town & Country School. Everyone thought the children would adjust quickly to the new area, but somehow it didn’t work out that way. There was some disenchantment. 

    Uncle John anticipated some reluctance and with forethought arranged to greet the children at the door of the new school with an unusual surprise. When the first students arrived, there were three large turkeys revolving and roasting on the electric spit in the great fireplace. Needless to say, the smell and sight of turkeys roasting about the cracking fire won all hearts, and no one ever wanted to return to Brentwood.

    All went well with the new school, but it quickly became too successful and overcrowded with the single building being divided into several classrooms. Families were anxious for completion of the original master plan (designed by architect John Byers) that called for two wings on either side of the main building. Once again, those families who had received so much were ready to step in to help. Funds were raised through family picnics and social events, but the sums raised were not sufficient to build the new classrooms. In addition, the Dyes were wary of any new financial commitments due to debts already incurred in building the new site. The Dyes were facing not just an enormous financial decision but also a huge emotional one. The school had been their heart and soul, but now, committed parents were encouraging them to give up private ownership and give the school over to a Board of Trustees to set it on a sound financial course. Adopting non-profit status in 1951 was a recognition by the Dyes that their ultimate dream of having a school that would go on and on was far more important than their holding on to private ownership. Ground was broken on the west wing on May Day, 1952, and the first students were in the new classrooms by the fall of that year.

    The Board of Trustees and the Mothers’ Club gave the Dyes all the support they needed. The additional classrooms enabled the school to increase enrollment, but the playground areas on the front campus and across the street (where the Kindergarten campus is now located) soon outgrew their usefulness. The Dyes believed that active children would be active learners, and they knew that more play area was necessary for baseball, football, tennis, and track. By the fall of 1953, the school had a new play field in the canyon that was filled in by a local developer who needed a place to discard dirt from his project. Soon after, a tennis court was added to this new area.

    The school continued to develop a reputation for excellence with its wonderful facilities and talented teaching staff. The Baby Boom generation was coming of school age, and both the Brentwood and Bel Air campuses were turning away applicants for lack of space. The Dyes were eager to complete the original architect’s plan and add an east wing to the campus, and this building was begun in the spring of 1954. New students were admitted to the new classrooms by fall of that same year.

    Aunty Cathryn and Uncle John were always dreaming about the next improvements they could make. The Brentwood campus was limited in its ability to enroll more students, and it was becoming increasingly difficult for the Dyes to run both campuses. It was determined that the area across the street from the main building at Bel Air, which was used as a playground, would be the perfect location for a building for the youngest students and would allow for the closure of the Brentwood location. The building envisioned by the Dyes would cost a great deal more than the classroom wings however. The entire property was refinanced, families stepped forward once again, and the Lower School facilities opened on February 1, 1957.

    Cathryn Robberts Dye’s dream of a "school on the hill" was, indeed, now a reality. Within just eight years after the opening of the original building, the campus was complete. Twenty-eight years had passed since the Dye’s opened their Brentwood home to neighborhood children. It was appropriate in every way that the school community honor Cathryn and John Dye and the memory of their only child by officially changing the name to The John Thomas Dye School in 1959.
  • The John Thomas Dye School 1960-Present

    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 1980s 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 Michaud Academic Center, housing the departmentalized classrooms for Grades 5 and 6, as well as science and technology classrooms. After 35 years of leadership, Ray Michaud retired in 2014.
    Following Mr. Michaud's retirement, Andrea Archer led the school from 2014-16, followed by Interim Head of School John Amato. After an extensive search, former JTD English teacher Rose Helm was named Head of School, and began her tenure in 2017. Under Ms. Helm's leadership, the School has entered a new era--implementing new curriculum; engaging in diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives; and planning for the future of JTD.

    While we continue to look to the future, the traditions of JTD continue to ground us. Even as the School faced evacuations due to nearby wildfires in 2017 and 2019, as well as a global pandemic in 2020 and 2021 the community found creative ways to pivot to remote learning, return to campus safely, and most importantly,  uphold a sense of community and connection throughout.

    To this day, each year the traditions of Carols, Candle Lighting, celebrating the School's Birthday, and Graduation bind generations of JTD Greyhounds together.

    The thousands of JTD graduates all share one thing in common: a deep gratitude to the brave and persevering family who had a vision for a school on a hill.
An Extraordinary Legacy
The story of John and Cathryn Dye, Aunty Cathryn and Uncle John, as they came to be affectionately called by their students, is a story of love, loss, and tenacity.
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Traditions are a memorable part of the John Thomas Dye School experience.
Many of the traditions that our students enjoy today began in Aunty Cathryn and Uncle John's home nearly a century ago. Below, you can learn more about some of the meaningful school traditions that connect generations of JTD students.
The Class of 2020 Recites the Salutation of the Dawn


List of 6 items.

  • The Salutation of the Dawn

    Every morning, before classes start, the entire student body and faculty gather on the lawn. While facing the American Flag and overlooking the city of Los Angeles and Catalina Island, the School community literally raises its arms toward the sun and recites "The Salutation of the Dawn," which is taken from the Sanskrit. While reciting this ancient poem, all members of the community think of ways to make the day as fulfilling as it can be. The following words are spoken:

    Listen to the Exhortation of the Dawn:

    Look to this Day!
    For it is life, the very life of life.
    In its brief course lie all the verities
    And realities of your existence:

    The splendor of beauty,
    The bliss of growth,
    The glory of action:

    For yesterday is but a dream,
    And tomorrow is only a vision.

    But today, well lived, makes
    Every yesterday a dream of happiness
    And every tomorrow a vision of hope.

    Look well, therefore, to this Day!
    Such is the Salutation of the Dawn.
  • Family Program

    This very special program matches up younger and older students as "buddies," who are also part of a larger "family" of students across Grades K-6. The families, led by Grade 6 students in coordination with representatives of the faculty/staff, form special bonds through organized activities that occur at regular intervals throughout the year. It delights the younger students to get attention from their big buddies, and the older students glow when their little buddy runs up to them to give them a hug at the end of the day. The cross-grade family groups are one of the many ways JTD fosters a sense of belonging amongst all students and faculty/staff.
  • Music for Lunch Bunch

    Four times a year, the gym turns into a cabaret to display students' many talents in "Music for Lunch Bunch." The entire student body, faculty, and staff eat their lunch while being entertained by their peer performers. Acts may include dancing, playing a musical instrument, singing a favorite song, or even magic tricks and jokes! The sixth graders serve as the Masters of Ceremonies for each show. "Music for Lunch Bunch" is an important part of JTD’s emphasis on public risk-taking in a safe, supportive environment. Parents/guardians of student performers are invited to attend and sit in the designated area.
  • The Grade 6 Play

    Parents, friends, and students gather and watch in awe as the sixth graders display their talents in the yearly grade 6 performance. Performances in recent years have included “The Lion King,” “Mary Poppins” and a variety show consisting of acts from various musicals and original content created by the students themselves. After weeks of rehearsal, the gym is transformed into a whirlwind of music, voices, dancing and acting. This is an opportunity for each of our sixth graders to shine!
  • Grade 6 vs. Faculty Games

    Twice a year the school gathers to watch grade 6 challenge the faculty in volleyball (in the fall) and softball (in the spring). Every sixth grader participates by rotating into the game and watching or cheering from the sidelines. At the end of the game, the sixth graders get a treat from the faculty for being such good sports. Usually the faculty wins, but some years the students actually come out ahead. Grade 6 can't wait till they face off with the faculty!
  • JTD Fair Spirit Day

    Spirit Day is held two days before the JTD Fair, which takes place the first Sunday in May. It is a festive day when students dress in their Fair t-shirts and shorts, instead of their school uniform. Just before lunch, the student body assembles on the lawn to see the administration participate in a skit or stunt that sets the Fair mood. Students compete in relay races and other competitions connected to the Fair theme. Students are dismissed early to go home and rest up for the Fair on Sunday.


List of 4 items.

  • Back-to-School Family Night

    The evening before the first day of school, students, parents, faculty, and staff gather on the Upper Lawn to reconnect after the summer vacation. After saying hello to each other, visiting old teachers, and checking out their new classroom, students and their families stake out a place on the lawn to enjoy a family dinner. Not only is it exciting to come back after the long summer and feel so at home again at school, it is a joyful way to start the new year.
  • Grandparents’ and Special Friends’ Day

    Each year, The John Thomas Dye School welcomes the grandparents and special friends of students to come and visit the school. The day begins with guests gathering for breakfast on the Upper Lawn and participating in our Morning Assembly as a full community. Guests are then invited into John Dye Hall for a message from the Head of School and grade level musical performances. Guests then visit classrooms where they get a glimpse of a day in the life of this child who is a special part of their life.
  • JTD Fair

    On the first Sunday in May, The John Thomas Dye School transforms itself into a world of color, carnival sounds, and joyful voices as the School community comes together to celebrate the annual JTD Fair. Parents, teachers, and students work together to carry out the theme, which is revealed during the first week of school in a festive all-school assembly. Parents and guardians organize the day, staff the booths, cook the food, entertain, and put on a spectacular event. Neighbors, alumni, and friends are all welcome to enjoy the day-long event by playing games, riding carnival rides, and eating from a wide smorgasbord of food options.
  • Grade 6 Graduation

    Our Grade 6 Graduation Ceremony takes place the day after school ends in early June. Parents are seated, the music begins, the front doors open wide, and the students, dressed in their best formal wear, proceed into John Thomas Dye Hall and take their seats on stage. Anticipation mounts as the Head of School leads up to giving the The John Thomas Dye Award, which is presented to the "one outstanding girl and boy, taking into consideration the qualities of character, culture, good sportsmanship and proficiency in academic pursuits."

    Each child listens intently for the words they wrote, as The Wuersten Award essay is read. This award is bestowed upon the student who pens the most thoughtful and well-written essay on "What The John Thomas Dye School Means to Me."

    As each student is called to receive his or her diploma, the Head of School speaks about each student individually, sharing personal attributes as well as accomplishments of their time at JTD. At the close of the ceremony, the new graduates ascend to the balcony one last time to sing traditional songs. Still in song, they then file out the doors to a new beginning.

    After the ceremony, everyone partakes in a traditional buffet of turkey salad on homemade biscuits, strawberries dipped in sour cream and powdered sugar, and a secret-recipe chocolate punch. Pictures are taken, good-byes are tearfully exchanged, and one by one families leave campus one last time.


List of 4 items.

  • Halloween Cookie Decorating

    Halloween cookie decorating has always been a memorable tradition among all John Thomas Dye students. On Halloween, each student decorates a sugar cookie with orange and or chocolate homemade frosting, chocolate chips, raisins, and candy corns. Every cookie is a masterpiece, but it is never hard to eat their perfect creations!
  • Candle Lighting Ceremony

    Just before students depart for Winter Break in December, The John Thomas Dye School holds its traditional Candle Lighting Ceremony. Each class quietly enters John Dye Hall, which is shrouded in darkness, save the crackling fire. Each student sits on the floor and receives a red candle in a marshmallow "holder." The faculty and staff each take a candle and gather around the Head of School with a single candle burning brightly. Following songs about peace, light, and hope, our Head of School and administrators then light the candles of each adult, who in turn light each student's candle. This way the one little flame that glistens in the darkness is passed on to radiate in great light, just as one life can influence many. Before the students blow out their candles, they make a wish for another child in the world.
  • Carols Program

    Since The John Thomas Dye School was founded, its students have presented a Carols program every year the night before students go on Winter Break. The faculty and staff decorate John Dye Hall in the week leading up to the performance, and sixth grade students write a wish on a large wreath that is hung at the top of the stage. By the evening performance, the smell of pine, wassail, and homemade gingerbread permeates John Dye Hall. The performance combines traditional and new carols, as well as musical accompaniment by recorder, bells, Orff instruments, and even ukuleles. Poetry and letters authored by John Thomas Dye III are recited by children at each performance. With the sounds of children's voices ringing out clearly, everyone is reminded of the spirit of the season.
  • The School Birthday

    Since 1929, on the first day of February, The John Thomas Dye School celebrates its "birthday." Sixth graders gather on the stage around a huge cake, lit with the number of candles for each year the school has existed. Kindergartners look on with awe as they don special birthday hats. With all the candles burning brightly, the entire School community sings the traditional birthday song and counts up to the birthday year for the School. At lunch, each child receives a cupcake to join in the celebratory festivities.
"I stand on the hill and look out from our school and breathe a prayer of happiness and of gratitude to all the wonderful people who have played an important part in creating and developing the values found in The John Thomas Dye School—a school that we feel was meant to be."
- From Golden Years by Cathryn Robberts Dye

The John Thomas Dye School

11414 Chalon Road
Los Angeles, CA 90049
Phone: (310) 476-2811
The John Thomas Dye School admits students of any race, color, religion, sexual orientation, or national and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the School. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sexual orientation, or national and ethnic origin in the administration of its educational policies, admission policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic or other school-administered programs.

Located In Los Angeles, CA, John Thomas Dye is an independent school for grades K-6. Students benefit from a challenging academic program, fine arts, competitive athletics, and a wide selection of extracurricular activities.