Derek Dennison, 1982-2005
Dick and Jean Dennison had no problem deciding what epitaph will be inscribed on their son Derek’s tombstone: “The puck stops here.”It’s a fitting tribute to a young man who grew up in this valley, and whose goal-tending skills helped lead his Vail Hockey team to a state championship when he was a high school junior; and to a second-place finish his senior year.”He was definitely a presence. We had a comfortable feeling when he was in the net,” remembers former teammate Tony Powell of Eagle, who grew up playing hockey with Dennison.”We knew that if the players made a mistake, he was always there to back us up,” says Powell.Dennison, 23, a seaman serving with the U.S. Navy, died Aug. 30th in San Diego. A celebration of his life will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 10th at the Ford Amphitheater in Vail. A reception will follow at the Chop House in Beaver Creek.Like most kids who grow up in this valley, Derek played sports. He started out as a skier, then made the transition an excellent snowboarder. He played a little soccer, baseball and did some mountain biking, but hockey was his passion. “He was very much a good goalie. He knew the game well,” says Powell.His dad remembers that Derek was not only blessed with good hand-eye coordination. He also played the game smart, anticipating plays ahead of time.
Hockey was a family venture for the Dennisons. His dad, Dick, coached the hockey team during their younger years; and was often standing by as an assistant coach as the team got older. Derek and Dick traveled with the hockey team to Russia in 1997; and to China over the 2000-2001 Christmas break. The license plate on his mom’s car reads “icemom.”Derek attended Red Sandstone Elementary School, Minturn Middle School, and was a 2001 graduate of Battle Mountain High School.He was born June 11, 1982, in Glenwood Springs, Colo. Like many local families, the Dennisons started out in the east end of the valley, and gradually migrated to the west. His parents are currently packing up their home in Edwards in preparation for a move to Eagle.Somehow, this mountain boy developed a love for water. When the local Boy Scout troop took a sailing trip in the San Diego Bay, he was hooked.”Derek fell in love with the water,” recalls his mother, Jean. Since joining the Navy, he took up surfing.Ellis Hunter met Derek her first year of high school. She was a figure skater; he was a hockey player. They dated for three years, and remained best of friends since that time. She recalls that Derek was the kind of guy people were drawn to.”He was friends with everyone. He liked all kinds of people, and could handle any situation,” she says, “He was never uncomfortable.
His personality could, at times, lead to some pied-piper sort of behavior in the class rooms, with Derek leading his fellow students a bit astray. When he worked guest services and security at Beaver Creek, Derek was the guy who could handle the cranky customers.”I thought he had a great sense of humor – kind of dry,” recalls his dad. Mom, Jean, was sometimes on the outside of the father-son jokes. Derek was the kind of guy that could rally a hockey team.”He could get us going. His personality off the ice was fabulous,” says Powell, “He was spontaneous – very fun to hang out with.”Derek had an artistic side; and a particular talent for drawing. He participated in student art shows; and some of his drawings still hang at the Blue Moose in Beaver Creek.After high school, he spent a year at Colorado State University. However, he had always had an interest in joining the military. Derek joined the Navy in April, 2002, and was trained as a damage control specialist. He served for six months in the Persian Gulf aboard the USS Belleau Wood. He received some awards from the Navy for his good work.Some of his leaves took him to Singapore, and Hawaii. Naturally, he found the big surfing waves in Hawaii. Just a few weeks ago, when Hunter paid him a visit in San Diego, he tried to teach her to surf. He was already very good at the sport.
At that time, he confided to Hunter his plan for the future. He wanted to move to Texas, join a fire academy, and make a career as a firefighter.His life ended before that dream could be realized.Derek Dennison is survived by his parents, Dick and Jean of Edwards; a grandmother, Frieda Dennison of Ann Arbor, Mich.; and his best friend, Ellis Hunter.Survivors also include his aunts, Judy Phillips of Blair, Neb.; Joy Montgomery of Kansas City, Kan.; and Margaret Canham of Michigan; an uncle, Jay Willis Waldorf, Md. and many cousins and friends.Memorial donations may be directed to the Derek Dennison Memorial Fund, in care of the First Bank of Beaver Creek, P.O. Box 5909, Avon, Colo. 81620. Donations may be dropped off at any First Bank.Vail, Colorado