All in the Family

If you’ve lived in Highlands or summered in Highlands or visited Conners Hotel in Highlands, of ever had a child attend MAST at Sandy Hook, then you must have heard of the Dempsy family! Or at least one of many parts of it!

This is a story I wrote a few years ago about an event that happened in 2000. The story epitomizes what, at least to the Dempseys, is the true meaning of Family. If you run into any of them today, be sure to thank them for the lessons we have all learned from them and their ancestors.

They did it only the way the Dempsey family could do it . With class, religion, fun, laughter, and sheer love for each other.

It was almost 20 years ago when five generations of the Dempsey family…so many of them living in Highlands,… decided to have a family reunion. They sent out the word, spent six months in the planning, and in the end, there were 200 of them! They cam from 16 states and spanned eight generations.

There was a story about the whole event in the Two River Times at the time it happened, and former Shrewsbury Mayor Don Burden even kept the story until this very day. It was a testimony to the importance of family, to the need we all have to share good times and bad with those we love, and proof that the Irish certainly know how to have a good time when they get together.

Let’s see. In July of 2000, when this grand event took place, Vince Dempsey was the oldest of the clan at age 89, and Thomas Olausen of Montana was the youngest at two and a half months of age.

They traced their history of how they are related going back to John Henry and Mae Dempsey, an East Orange couple who spent their summers at Neimarks bungalows in Highlands, bungalows since replaced by condos.

The Dempseys had 13 children, five of whom made Highlands their permanent homes. They had all passed by the time of this reunion, but their names were revered and remembered as they still are……..Viola Horan Foss, Joseph, the former Highlands Mayor, Earl, one of the founders of the NJROTC program at MAST, Charles, aka Buddy, and Rowland. And the generations of those family continue to live in Monmouth County.

But back to the event . As the Dempseys would do, the reunion started …it actually went on for three days….as the Dempseys would have it, with an Evening Mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church to remember all those who were deceased or who could make the reunion. Family members called out the names of their deceased relatives in a ceremony long remembered by all who filled the church..

There was also great joy at the mass since so many Dempseys have been marred in that church, received their sacraments there, and some still attend. The marriages of all the Dempseys involved in the reunion presented an interesting statistic…..added together, the number of years of wedded bliss came to more than 550 years! And during the reunion, 15 couples renewed their wedding vows! Vince and Marian were the longest married at the event, with 62 years together, and Bernice and Bill Reyen added another 51 years to the total.

There was a family picnic at Sandy Hook which was also celebrated in grand Dempsey style.

The planners had arranged for an army tent from Fort Hancock, most likely Earl’s doing….but when they got there, there was still a huge white tent on the site from an event earlier in the week. The tent company arrived to take down their huge white tent, but when they saw it would interfere with the party, they decided to leave it up and let the Dempseys use it . Of course, in true Dempsey style, they repaid the tent owners….they immediately invited them to the festivities and to make it official, swore t hem all in as Honorary Dempseys for the Day!

Another day, there was a day at Monmouth Park where the third race was the Dempsey Derby and Gerard of Kentucky, Vince of Highlands and Helen Sloan of Florida, representing the first generation of the clan, presented the trophy to the winning trainer and jockey. The picnic that day was in the Monmouth Park picnic grounds, so there were pony rides and clowns to help celebrate as well. Also included in the triduum were visits to the lighthouse, chapel and museum at Fort Hancock, pony rides and clowns, as well as Connors Hotel on Shore Drive, another hot spot for the Dempseys every year.

It was a grand event , talked about for months. And if you happen t o run into a Dempsey one of these days… if they are over 19…. ask them about it. It’s a sure thing they were at the reunion, and a sure thing they ‘ll have some great memories to share about it .

They simply don’t make families like that anymore!


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