(Columnist’s note: It’s been a year since Dale Denning passed away and the following column was written. He’s still missed by lots of folks around here. Knowing Dale, I think he would kind of like that.)
Last Friday was one of those few days in August where the weather was bearable. The weather was more than just bearable, it was actually comfortable. So it was a good day to go and play golf. Actually, there are very few days when it is not good to go and play golf.
So I picked up Dale at six o’clock that Friday morning and we headed down to meet Jimmy at a course just over the state line in South Carolina, near Little River. Rushing through the drivethru at McDonald’s, we ordered our two senior coffees and our dollar sausage biscuits. Always the big spender, Dale picked up the $2.63 tab.
The golf course, which was located on the Intercoastal Waterway, was beautiful, a challenge but not too hard. After the first six holes, I looked back at my scorecard and realized I had bogied every hole. (For you nongolfers, please be patient.) I had played OK, but I had a good chance to par every hole and didn’t. I would miss a short putt or leave an approach shot just off the green. Something like that.
Frustrated with the missed opportunities, and knowing we were playing a difficult course, I told Dale, “I should have gotten those pars when I had a chance because I know there are double bogies down the road.”
Dale replied, “Yeah, it’s kinda like life. You better make the most of opportunities while you can, because you know there are always going to be those double bogies.” That’s pretty profound for the golf course, isn’t it? By the way, I know some of you good golfers think that you better get birdies while you can because there are bogies down the road. That’s OK, you think your way according to your ability. I know mine.
I was right. There were some double bogies ahead for me in my round that day. But the weather was nice and we all had a good time. A couple of times we just stopped on the course and admired the impressive views After playing we all drove a few minutes over to Calabash for lunch. (It was Dale’s idea.) We were back in Clinton by 3:30 that afternoon. Driving back we talked about the usual stuff – politics, family, church, and ECU football, (but not necessarily in that order.) It was a good day.
At age 61, Dale Denning passed away that night from a sudden heart attack. As I think back about my time with my friend, I recall many things that he said. Things like, “It’s better to ask forgiveness than permission,” and “No good deed goes unpunished.” But I suppose what he said that last day will always stick in my mind. “Yeah, it’s kinda like life. You better make the most of opportunities while you can, because you know there are always going to be those double bogies.” And Dale made the most of his opportunities.
When the opportunities came along he took them. The opportunity to build a successful business is obvious to those in our community. That was important to Dale, but not most important. More important, it was the opportunity to travel with Gwen, and to be at their place on the waterway. It was the opportunity to fly to New York and France and spend time with his son, Jeremy. It was the opportunity to do things with his daughter, Jenny, like going to see “The Prairie Home Companion” program in Cary. (He missed out on golf to do that.) Then there was his granddaughter, Mirabella. He cherished his opportunities with her, taking the five year old to ballgames and to a Taylor Swift concert. And he always figured out a way not to miss out on a golf game or ballgame with his friends. If the opportunity was there, he would do his best not to miss it. Most of those opportunities didn’t just happen. They were the residue of his hard work and preparation. And also the blessings of a life lived as best as he could in obedience to and faith in God.
Dale took the opportunity to serve. One thing I have heard from several people this past week was, “A lot of people depended on Dale.” That was true. But Dale didn’t look on it as a burden, but another opportunity. The opportunity to serve and help and live out his Christian faith. It was the faith that came from Dale taking advantage of the ultimate opportunity of accepting Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour.
A fatal double bogie happened that night to Dale and it was way too soon for those of us who knew him. But Dale knew that some day it would happen (not this soon), so he took advantage of as many opportunities as possible. He lived a full life. And, by the way, on Friday, he made par on his last hole.