Dennis L. Smith, 77, died on Nov. 29, 2021, after a life filled with generosity and boundless energy.
Born to Jane and Larry Smith of Otter Creek, he knew this village was his home, and the few times he lived elsewhere had him figuring out how to get back.
As a child in Otter Creek, he tracked a fox through the snow just to learn where it went and worked as a caddy in the summer. “I was 12 and some smart guys thought they could hire me to carry both their bags for the price of one. I did but decided I would never treat a caddy like that when I grew up.” Golf was a lifelong passion, and he had a reputation as a gentleman on island courses as well as those away. He was also a mean putter, and his first prize jars filled with red kidney beans from the Baked Bean Open were a source of pride.
When he was 8, he saw a boy pull a trout from the Otter Creek fire pond. He was mesmerized. For the next 70 years, he followed fish. President of the MDI Rod and Gun Club, Dennis ran many an ice-fishing derby and was a persistent voice working for slot limits and rules aimed at healthy populations of game fish. In winter it was fishing through a hole in the ice. He brought his kids and his grandkids out and shared how to keep their lines untangled and their bait at the right depth. He was ever curious and wanted to know what the impact of stocking was, and how the size of populations changed. A familiar figure on the frozen ponds of Mount Desert Island, he would ask every fisherman he saw for information and take scale samples to collect data.
When Dennis was an adult, his dentist encouraged him to try fly fishing, and a benevolent monster was born. An early supporter of catch and release, Dennis had his nay-sayers. When he fished Academy Pool on the Narraguagus, and put his fish back, he sometimes had folks throw rocks at him, or cast a hook his way. For years he attended meetings in Augusta as a member of the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Advisory Council to protect Atlantic salmon. He served on the board of the Downeast Salmon Federation, bringing ideas and donors to the organization, and in 2019 was honored with the Paddle Award.
He found his love of fishing young but got sidetracked by a love of girls. He attended Mount Desert High School, where he played basketball. At one of the games, he met Joanne Robbins. They soon married and he became a family man. He attended the General Electric School of Plumbing and lived in Lynn, Mass., but moved back to Mount Desert Island as soon as he could. He bought a house in Otter Creek, with a couple of shower stalls, and developed the 24/7 coin-operated Hot Shower business, which he ran for 58 years. There they raised three daughters, Tracy, Jennifer and Penny, and ran a market in the basement of their home.
Dennis had many interests and was the master of most. His mantra was “never, never, never, never give up” adapted from one of his heroes, Winston Churchill, and he liked to point out there were four “nevers” in that quote. If you told him “You’ll never be able to do that” you’d better stand back. After he and his first wife parted, he went with a partner to ballroom dance classes, and his date was told “You’d better find a new partner.” Practicing with a broom in the kitchen and his never never, never, never give up attitude, he became a smooth mover on the dance floor. He later met Karen Zimmermann, and together they won dance competitions and fell in love. With Karen, he biked in Spain, hiked in the Azores, dove into cenotes in Mexico, visited friends in Iceland, explored much of Maine, made maple syrup, pickled pickerel, built osprey nests, tracked animals, reveled in winter and had one adventure after another.
All along the way, he made friends. Sitting silent next to a stranger was not Dennis’s style. He would strike up a conversation, and before long they found common ground. He liked to say he mingled with paupers and kings and made friends with both. Dennis was known for his big smile and upbeat attitude. Many a crisis was met with a shrug and “If that’s the worst thing that happens today, we are doing OK.” After his house burned to the ground in 2010, he would hear a passing fire engine and say with a smile, “Not my house!”
He was an adventurous skier, and one watcher saw a flash of red sending up a plume of powder as it zig-zagged around trees through a glade. “Look at that deranged teenager,” the watcher exclaimed. Yes, that was Dennis. Aspen was a yearly destination for skiing. He also made a yearly trip to Florida to visit his golf pro buddy Rob Gardner. He would call home with Barry White blasting, and Rob singing along in the background.
For some the cup is full or empty, but for Dennis it brimmed over, and he was always happy to share. Stranded motorists, beginning skiers, youngsters wanting to ice fish, Dennis gladly found the time to help them.
Diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) in 2016, he never complained or became angry. He researched cures, tried many treatments and lived every day to the fullest.
He danced from his wheelchair a few days before he died, snapping his fingers and tapping his toes to Jerry Lee Lewis.
Dennis leaves behind his beautiful smile in the sky, a fish-catching fly he dubbed the “Rodney Dangerfield,” a recipe for pickled pickerel and a big hole in the hearts of his wife, Karen, brother Stephen Smith, sister Liz Iaquessa and husband, John, daughters Tracy Hetzer and husband, Rob, Jennifer Feltwell and husband, David, Penelope Heiges and fiancé Ty Redmon, Kymry Todhunter and husband, Christian, eight grandchildren, Basil Mahaney and wife, Lesley, Nigel Storer and Duncan Hetzer, Stefanie, Juliet and Sofia Feltwell, Sara and Ally Heiges and three adored great-grandchildren, Hadley, William and Jack.
If you wish to donate in Dennis’s honor, please do so to the Downeast Salmon Federation, Beacon Hospice, Cure PSP or an organization of your choice.
A celebration of his life will be held at noon on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022, at his home in Otter Creek with a bonfire, some indoor warmth and any story you wish to share.
Condolences may be expressed at www.jordanfernald.com.