Thursday, December 30, 2010

Dennis Joos

Dennis Joos was my classmate and friend.  I met him for the first time when I went to St. Joseph Seraphic Seminary in Callicoon, New York, in September, 1961.  Over the next years, Dennis was a significant part of my life.  I never understood how we got to be friends, but friends we were.  Some memories:

In January of 1962, the Prefect of Discipline, Fr. Anthony McGuire, assigned me, at my request, to be one of the barbers for the student body.  I had no experience whatsoever in barbering, but, I figured, how hard could it be?  Dennis offered himself up as my first customer/victim.  I gave him the worst haircut in recorded history.  We remained friends anyway, and his hair grew back.

In March of 1963, I was being hassled by a classmate who had decided I was gay and would occasionally turn on me with cutting remarks and gay–related epithets.  I never knew what to do when this happened.  One day, this boy started in on me at the lunch table.  Dennis was sitting directly opposite me and heard every nasty word.  He turned to the boy (whose name I have forgotten) and told him very nicely to shut up.  That was the last time I remember the boy hassling me.

During the Lent of our novitiate year, our Novice Master, Fr. Theophane Larkin, told me that I had gained too much weight eating all the rice pudding we had for dessert every Lenten day except Sunday.  I was directed to lose weight.  We all were weighed once a month and the results were sent to Fr. Theophane.  The first weigh–in after Father’s direction to me, I was nervous.  I so wanted to come in at a lower weight.  I stood on the scale, and it showed that I had gained 21 pounds!!!  I freaked!!!  Then I happened to look down to see Dennis’s foot on the scale between my two feet.  I actually had lost about 8 pounds.

As part of my weight–loss program, I would play soccer with my classmates every afternoon.  I got to be very competitive, sometimes in a nasty way.  One day, there was a close play and I barely managed to get the ball away from a player on the opposing team whom I especially wanted to outplay.  Words led to the beginnings of a physical fight.  Dennis stepped in immediately and calmed me down, and restored the game to order.  He had a gentle way about him that made you forget how powerful his personality was.

Later that same year (1967), in the time after Easter, I was in my room one night doing whatever we did at night in the Novitiate.  My door opened suddenly and Dennis came in, breaking about 5 different rules.  He told me that the Novice Master had just told him to pack his things because he would have to leave the Novitiate and the Order.  Dennis was heartbroken.  He cried so hard I was worried for him, but I had no idea what to say to him.  I went over and hugged him until he stopped crying, and then we talked for a while about how idiotic the decisions were in that place, and about what Dennis would do when he got back to his home in New Hampshire.  We hugged again when he left, and that was the last time I saw Dennis.  He was gone the next morning.

In the Spring of 1970, I had left the Friars and was a graduate student studying German at Catholic University in D.C.  One day I got a letter from Dennis.  His draft board was after him.  Dennis was requesting conscientious objector status and he asked me to write a letter to the draft board supporting his claim.  I wrote about some of the things I’ve mentioned in this piece, and several others.  I told them that Dennis was a good and loving man, and, most of all, a man of peace.  I felt so proud that he asked for my support in this way.  I never heard from him again, so I don’t know if his request was granted.

I do know, though, that Dennis married, had children, and made a beautiful life for himself in Stewartstown, a rural town in New Hampshire.  He eventually became the editor of the News Sentinel, the local paper in Colebrook, New Hampshire.

His life ended on 19 August 1997.  Dennis died a real honest–to–God hero.  For what he did that day he was awarded the Carnegie Medal for Extraordinary Heroism.  The library in Stewartstown was rededicated and now is the Dennis Joos Memorial Library.  The following is the citation accompanying the Carnegie award:
>>>Dennis Joos died attempting to rescue Vickie M. Bunnell from assault, Colebrook, New Hampshire, August 19, 1997. Ms. Bunnell, 45, and others fled the building which housed Ms. Bunnell's law office as well as the operations of a newspaper after a man armed with an assault rifle arrived at the premises in a stolen police cruiser. The man, whom Ms. Bunnell recognized, had just killed two state police troopers not far away. As Ms. Bunnell ran across the parking lot at the rear of the building, the man, standing at a point near the building's back door, shot her. At work in the building, Joos, 51, editor, ran through the back door, then approached and grasped the assailant, who outweighed Joos. During the ensuing struggle for control of the rifle, the assailant shot Joos, felling him. The assailant then left the scene but was later killed in a shootout with police. Ms. Bunnell and Joos died of their gunshot wounds.<<<

Above is a picture of the plaque that is now in a place near where Dennis died, remembering those who died that day.

How blessed is my life to have had Dennis in it.

To read more about what happened to Dennis, check out the story that Time Magazine published at