A tribute worthy of the man

Megan and Dennis Alley
Megan and Dennis Alley. Photos by Ralph Stewart

By Mary Alley - July 19, 2007

Planning a retirement party for someone who is adamant about not having one is difficult, especially when the person is my father, Dennis Alley. However, after 52 years of service on the Fire Department in the Town of Oak Bluffs, there was no way he was going to escape it.

I had been contacted by Duncan Ross in April to be part of a planning committee consisting of Duncan, Peter Martell, and me. We were shooting for July as my brother and his family would be here. Where it was to be held was difficult, as restaurants were suggested and rejected. Someone suggested Waban Park. We all agreed that it was perfect, right down to the fact that Dad could wander off and smoke his trademark pipe if he wished. We planned to invite the entire community.

But what to honor him with? The new ladder truck was suggested as that was the last project that he completed before he retired. But that didn't seem quite enough. I was speaking with a friend about our dilemma and she suggested renaming a park. There are lots of parks in Oak Bluffs and my Dad had served for a number of years on the Park Department as well. Waban Park again seemed perfect as it was where the Firemen's Muster was held every year. Duncan raised the question to the park commissioners, who were unanimous in their support. Michael Dutton looked into the legality of the name change and found that it could be done by the commissioners' vote alone. Now it was only a matter of keeping it a secret.

Sam Alley and Mary Alley
Dennis Alley's grandson, Sam Alley (left, front) and his daughter, Mary Alley, enjoy one of the many lighthearted moments at the retirement party.

I was the one who had the job of telling my Dad that we were having a party, and that he was expected to attend. Much of what was said can't be printed here, but suffice it to say that he was not thrilled. I thought two months notice was plenty to let him get used to the idea. But right up until the day before, I had calls from folks who wondered if he would attend. Word on the street was that we had a better chance of seeing Elvis than seeing my Dad at the party. That comment prompted a cardboard cut-out of the King joining Buddy DeBettencourt during his speech.

Dennis Alley, Buddy DeBettencourt, and the King
Elvis may have left the building, but he showed up at Dennis Alley's retirement celebration last Saturday at Waban Park in Oak Bluffs. (From left) Dennis Alley, Buddy DeBettencourt, and the King.

The response from the people I contacted for donations in the business community in Oak Bluffs was very positive. Anything I asked was answered with, "For your Dad? Just tell me what you need and where to deliver." It's great to hear that when you are putting together any kind of event, but special to hear when it's for your dad.

Everything came together over the last couple of weeks and July 14 dawned bright and clear. My family and friends all had their assignments. Food was delivered as it got closer to noon and people started to trickle in. The sound system received its finishing touches and Duncan and Marty Nadler had a schedule of speakers and presenters. It was almost Showtime.

Erik Blake and Joe Carter
Two Oak Bluffs police chiefs: Erik Blake (left), the current chief, and Joe Carter, the former chief.

The family was on "Dad-Alert" all morning to track his whereabouts. He arrived right on time with my mother, Megan. At one point I looked up from what I was doing and the few people had turned into a few hundred. The tables were filled and people were lined up all around the tent. I thought how wonderful it was to see my family; from my 95-year-old grandmother, Bumma, to my niece, Paige, who at two was the youngest of the clan, and all those in between. And there were friends that Dad had grown up with and worked with over several decades. It reminded me how much this community takes pride in honoring those who give of themselves.

There were many speeches and citations, and some good-hearted ribbing from those who know him well. The plaque renaming the park was unveiled and was beautiful, even with its misspelling of "Oak Buffs," which none of us caught until it was too late. But I think the best part for my Dad and those of us closest to him was to see the outpouring of love and respect for a man who dedicated so much of his life to the Town and its people.

Mary Alley is Dennis Alley's daughter.