My friend, buddy, co-president, rescuer, artist and just-all-’round good guy, Dennis McConnell, died Saturday afternoon. His family sent notice of his death in typical Dennis fashion:

The McConnell family wants to let you know that Dennis has received his halo on Saturday, July 28th, and is currently enjoying some wine and making glass up in heaven. Plans are underway for a memorial service in a couple of weeks in Vancouver, WA and another in Appleton, WI at the beginning of September, with more details to follow.

In lieu of flowers we recommend checking out the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society website for ways to help or signing up to be a stem cell donor

Thank you for all your love, support, prayers and good thoughts.

Sharon, Sean and Hailey

He will be sorely missed, not only by his buddies in the Oregon Glass Guild, but by everyone from his family to his old buddies in Wisconsin to the nurses who took care of him to probably the dude at the corner gas station. Dennis was just that kind of guy.

Dennis walked into my life one night at an OGG emergency meeting. We were struggling for volunteers and then-president Bob had sent out a “look, you guys want a guild or not?” message, asking people to step up and come to a volunteer meeting. But that night the meeting room was empty of all but board members…and Dennis.

Dennis didn’t say much, just asked what we needed done, and started doing it. Nobody knew him, this retired printing industry sales guy who’d come out of nowhere, but all of a sudden our mantra became “Ask Dennis,” whenever we needed an extra pair of hands. I don’t think he ever said no.

And we became buddies. He had a sly sense of humor, just bawdy enough to help the belly laugh along, and he saw the fun side of everything.

Somewhere along the line I’d decided he was one of those legions of hobby glassists who turn out plates and bowls by rote, the way others make tea cozies and paint-by-numbers. I’d never asked about Dennis’ art because, frankly, I didn’t want to wind up faced with a lot of dichroic-on-a-sushi-dish in one of those awkward little “Oh, umm, very nice” moments.

Then my friend Becky put a new bowl in her gallery, delicate, slightly tilted, black on the outside, neon green on the inside, with thin slashes of color. “Wow, that’s gorgeous!” I exclaimed, “Who’s the artist?”

Becky gave me an odd look. “Dennis.”


Apparently a lot of other people said whoa, too. Dennis became a finalist in the 2010 eMerge competition; he learned he’d been accepted when he stopped in at the Bullseye Resource Center for glass and the employees ran up to give him a congratulatory hug.

His eMerge piece sold, and the buyer insisted on having it before the show ended. So Dennis brought Bullseye another, and that one sold, too. “I hold the record,” he joked, “TWO pieces in the same eMerge.”

And he just took off. Niche Finalist. Work all over the place. Started teaching. A couple of months ago Pilchuck called and asked him to donate a piece to their auction. I settled back to watch my buddy soar.

And Dennis was diagnosed with leukemia. Ironically, the diagnosis came just as he’d finished growing out his hair to donate to Locks of Love, in honor of friend(s) bitten by this horrible disease. They cut his hair–and donated it–right before his first chemo treatment.

I figured, knowing Dennis, that there would be this brief intermission while he vanquished the disease. For a long time it looked as if that was exactly what was happening.

He’d recount the details of his battle with the verve of a stand-up comedian. You couldn’t help but laugh and joke right along with him, while some secret part of you wanted to cry.

But somewhere along the line the cancer got the upper hand. We took dinner over to Dennis and Sharon’s a couple of weeks ago –Busters BBQ, his favorite–and sat in his backyard by the fire pit, chewing ribs and laughing, and saying-but-not-saying goodbye.

Dennis looked thinner and older but still game. “My brothers are coming out. I keep telling Sharon we’ll sneak out the back, raise a little hell. It’s too quiet around here.”

I doubt you’re EVER going to rest in peace, Dennis. Just have a good time while you’re up there in heaven, raising hell.