NEW LONDON, Conn. — Retired U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Arnold Melvin "Dan" Danielsen, who transitioned from the military to become president of the Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce over a key six-year period that coincided with the rise of the region's casinos, died Friday at age 83.
Danielsen was remembered as a warm and generous man who saw the big picture and was not one to fly off the handle. Danielsen served as assistant superintendent of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy before assuming the mantle of acting superintendent in 1981 after the sudden death of Rear Adm. Malcolm E. Clark.
"He was a good leader — a gentleman of the highest caliber," said Paul Welling of East Lyme, a retired Coast Guard vice admiral. "He had a nice way of looking at things in a lower key."
"I've always known him as a very fine man ... correct in whatever he did," said another friend, retired Coast Guard Capt. Jim Fleishell of East Lyme. "He always wore garters in his socks."
"He was a very strong character," said retired Coast Guard Capt. Roderick White of Old Lyme, a golfing buddy of Danielsen's who played with him regularly at the Cedar Ridge course in East Lyme. "When he believed something, he would speak up."
Fleishell said he remembers Danielsen speaking out for the Mohegan tribe as it fought for legal recognition and built a casino during his tenure from 1988 to 1994 as head of the local chamber, now known as the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut.
Others, including Maria Miranda, owner of Miranda Creative in Norwich, remembered Danielsen's more personal influence.
"He mentored and supported me as I started out my journey to be an entrepreneur," she said in a voicemail message. "He was very kind, he was a generous mentor, and he will be missed."
Danielsen late in life had been fighting Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease, and his friends visited him regularly at Bride Brook, a nursing home and rehabilitation center in East Lyme.
According to information provided by Danielsen's family, he retired from the Coast Guard in 1988 after a 34-year career. In addition to serving as acting superintendent, Danielsen earlier had worked at the Coast Guard Academy as assistant commandant of cadets.
"He was a wonderful example for cadets ... a man of great integrity," Fleishell said.
Danielsen came from a long line of military men. His father graduated from West Point, Fleishell said, and a grandson just received an appointment to the famed military academy.
Socially very active, Danielsen was a member of the Thames Club, the Pequot Beach Club and had been on the board of directors of the New London Maritime Society.
"He was very proud to be a Norwegian," Fleishell said. "He was a Viking in every sense of the word ... but he was a very gentle man and caring man."
Danielsen was born Jan. 7, 1931, in Brooklyn, N.Y., to recent Norwegian immigrants Rakel and Ole Danielsen. A 1954 graduate of the Coast Guard Academy, he later earned a master's degree in management from the Naval Post Graduate School in Monterey, Calif.
He was married for the past 58 years to the former Joan H. Lee of New London. Other survivors are three sons, Paul Danielsen of Madison, Peter Danielsen of Greenwich and David Danielsen of Westborough, Mass., as well as five grandchildren.