John Dennis (Denny) Dempster, a Rhinebeck resident from 1965-2011, passed away on May 7, 2020 at age 87. He died at home in Clinton, NY, from Parkinson’s disease. Denny was born on October 28, 1932 in North Tonawanda, NY, to Tim and Hilda (Bell) Dempster. His lifelong love of sports began when he played basketball and tennis as a youth at North Tonawanda High School. Denny served in the army during the Korean War from 1951-1954; he was a staff sergeant and was stationed for 20 months in Korea.
Denny attended SUNY Albany upon returning from Korea, where he met and quickly married Mary Catherine (Mernie) Murray. Despite his modest stature, he was a successful point guard on the Albany State basketball team before a knee injury ended his basketball career. Denny earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Albany. After stints at the Schalmont and Warwick school districts as a math teacher and guidance counselor, Denny moved with Mernie and their three children to Rhinebeck when he took a job as director of guidance at Rhinebeck High School in 1965. He began working at Dutchess Community College in 1969 and spent many years there as Director of Admissions and Registrar before retiring in 1988. Denny served on numerous professional organizations, including as president of the Dutchess County Guidance Association. He received the State University of New York Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Professional Service in 1979.
Denny took up running in his late 30’s and ran competitively for over two decades. He loved running and continued to win races into his 60’s, including winning his age group in the 1993 Toronto Marathon. Golf was an equally beloved though sometimes more frustrating pursuit. Whatever the activity – running, golf, or working out at IXL – his relationships with those around him were a core part of the experience for him.
After his retirement, he and Mernie spent many happy years travelling across the U.S., from coast to coast and up to Alaska. He ran for Rhinebeck town board in 1989, becoming one of the first two Democrats elected to the board in over 40 years. Quintessential extravert that he was, his favorite part of the experience was knocking on doors during the campaign, meeting and talking to people.
Denny loved people and made good friends wherever he went. He was in his element when surrounded by family and friends, a glass of wine in his hand, talking, joking, and debating politics. He was a loving and generous father, a proud and playful grandfather, and an adoring great-grandfather. After losing his beloved wife Mernie in 2004, Denny considered himself lucky to find love again with Priscilla Miller, his companion of the last 10 years. They shared several years of fun and travel when he was in good health. Denny’s activities in his last years were limited by diagnoses of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. However, he continued to find joy in life despite the toll that dementia took on him.
Denny is survived by Priscilla, of Clinton, NY, as well as his children, Mike, of Portland, OR, Peggy Boyer, of Forest City, NC, and Cathy (Jon Greenbaum) of Rochester, NY. He is also survived by his beloved grandchildren, Emma, Erin, Sophie, and Ian, as well as his adored great-granddaughter Quinn. Also surviving him are his sister-in-law and brother-in-law, Peggy and Joe Greco, as well as numerous nieces and nephews. Last but not least, Denny is survived by his best canine pal, Rowdy. In addition to his wife Mernie, Denny was predeceased by his sister, Gladys, brother- and sister-in-law Jack and Mary Murray, and first cousin/surrogate brother, Raymond Williamson of England.
A celebration of Denny’s life will be held in the future when restrictions on gatherings are lifted. Memorial donations may be made to Hudson Valley Hospice (374 Violet Ave, Poughkeepsie, 12601), Scenic Hudson (One Civic Center Plaza, Suite 200, Poughkeepsie 12601) or the Hudson Valley SPCA (940 Little Britain Rd, New Windsor, NY 12553).
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