It began at a church league basketball game. At least, that’s the version of the story I heard of how my friend, Dale Denning, who passed away six years ago today, became known as “Fresh.”
It happened a few years before I moved to Clinton. Dale was sitting on the bench wanting to get into the game. Evidently, some of his team’s players were getting tired out on the court. Dale ran up to the coach and said, “Put me in, I’m fresh! Put me in, I’m fresh!” And so the nickname of “Fresh” was born.
The funny thing was I think Dale never knew that he was nicknamed, “Fresh.” We never called him that to his face. And gradually over the years, his friends quit using it, except maybe to say something like, “that was a ‘fresh’ idea,” or “that sounds like a ‘fresh’ plan.” Because Dale really could have some fresh ideas and plans. Maybe “Fresh” was the appropriate nickname after all.
Dale did have fresh ideas. Now some of his ideas would make you shake your head and say, “No, Dale.” But most were actually quite good. Active in the Clinton Kiwanis Club for years, Dale suggested that the club honor Sampson County elementary school Terrific Kids students in a special way. His idea was to have a drawing and give a bicycle to a Terrific Kid from each school at the end of the school year. We agreed and are still doing it today. So there have been a lot of happy kids getting a bike as a reward for their efforts at school, thanks to one of Dale’s fresh ideas.
Dale did have fresh plans. Sometimes they didn’t work out too good. There is the story about Dale and me going to get his new boat. It involved running out of gas, a blown transmission, two highway patrolmen, and a tow truck. But most were a lot of fun. Like driving twelve hours straight to Memphis for the Liberty Bowl football game. Like going to Pinehurst for the U.S. Open and parking in a special up close parking lot because we were with the “governor’s office.”
Dale had a fresh perspective. Being a CPA, he could look at a financial situation and come up with an angle to handle the problem in a way that you never thought of. But that fresh perspective went way beyond the financial world. It seemed like Dale would almost always have the right word, the right advice for whatever the situation. I suppose that wisdom came from Dale’s desire to constantly learn, experience, and good old Sampson County common sense.
Finally, being around Dale was like a breath of fresh air. He could sometimes be hardheaded about his plans and ideas. And sometimes you went along with them only because he would be so persistent. But even those plans and ideas would more than likely not end up boring.
It’s interesting that just recently I’ve had reminders of ol’ Dale. A former church board member told me of how he and Dale would argue during board budget meetings. But he was laughing while he said it, remembering Dale as always an optimist about how much money the church would take in during the coming year, and how he could come up with some creative ways to make the church budget balance.
A couple of weeks ago, another friend shared how he sure could have used some of Dale’s fresh advice and counsel. And, just last week, my sister said, while talking to me about a situation I am facing, “I bet you wish Dale was still around to talk about it with.” She was right.
People die and the years pass. Your memories of many who have passed grow dimmer as you look in the rear view mirror. But the memories of others don’t. That’s because they are not in your rear view mirror. They are in you.
It was exactly six years ago today that Dale Denning passed away suddenly. The heart attack took him much too soon for the rest of us who knew him. But I believe the quality of your life is not measured in the numbers of years that you live. It’s how you live those years. You have to keep it fresh. Dale did.
Mac McPhail, raised in Sampson County, lives in Clinton and can be reached at [email protected]