That was Dennis Houser’s way Friday of deflecting attention away from himself and back onto one of his favorite topics: historic Blountville.
WHAT: A dedication and sign unveiling for the future Park at Derry Inn. It was held Friday morning on the rear lawn of the historic inn, next door to the historic Sullivan County Courthouse. The two buildings constitute the heart of the Blountville Historic District. And, in recognition of what all those gathered said is Houser’s role as the heart, for many years, of the effort to restore and preserve the Deery Inn and other sites, the park is dedicated in his honor.
WHO: Dennis Houser is a former long-serving Sullivan County commissioner (he chose not to seek re-election in August) and former president of the Sullivan County Historical Preservation Association. Among those who sang his praises Friday were County Mayor Richard Venable, state Rep. Timothy Hill, state Rep. John Crawford and SCHPA member Pam Hebert. CanJoe John performed a musical tribute. And Rev. Dwight Shaffer of Blountville Christian Church offered a prayer of dedication.
WHY: Each of those who spoke touched on Houser’s unwavering passion for preserving the Deery Inn and Blountville’s overall history. All cited him as having inspired them in their own efforts to serve the community. Hebert made a point to stress that the plans to honor Houser by dedicating the park, a part of his vision for the Derry Inn property, well pre-dated his cancer diagnosis.
HOW: Some of their comments are summarized below, as well as Houser’s own reaction to the surprise (he knew there was a sign, but not that the park was to be dedicated in his honor).
• “I look on his passion, his fervor, for this area right here as inspiration for me for what I was supposed to be doing, which was fighting at the state level,” Hill said of his early encounters with Houser after Hill was elected to the Tennessee General Assembly. “More than anything he loves the community. As a lawmaker coming on, this was very instructive. He has given so much. This gentleman has given of his time, his energy, his money and his resources. Not because he wanted anything in return, but just to make the community better. He loves us. And I can say by your presence here today, we love him, too. He is a shining example of what you are supposed to be when you are in office.”
• Crawford said Houser’s picture should be in the dictionary as the definition of “Southern gentleman.” Crawford said when he was first elected to the Sullivan County Commission, Houser gave him guidance. “I’d never have gotten to where I am today without him, without his leadership, without his inspiration,” Crawford said.
• Venable recalled the very first vote by the county commission after he was first elected mayor. It was about the Deery Inn. And sponsored by Houser. It was considered controversial at the time. Venable asked Houser to defer it, please. Houser said no, he’d bring it to a vote — and he did. And it was a tie, throwing the deciding vote to Venable as commission chairman. Venable voted no. “And he forgave me,” Venable said.
• Houser confirmed that account, but added what he most remembered from that day is that later he had apologized to Venable for perhaps being too aggressive in pushing for the vote. “He told me, ‘Don’t ever apologize for a passion,’ ” Houser said. “I wish I could be half the man these gentlemen have talked about.”
Houser said he was humbled and “not deserving” of the honor because it was a group effort he has been a part of all these years, but he was “grateful and appreciative” for it.
As for dealing with cancer, Houser said that although it’s been a tough battle, “My faith has never wavered. I think I’m going to beat it, and I’ll be back.”
Houser said the Park at the Deery Inn is another step in continued improvement to the historic district, noting the nearly completed visitors center in the old sheriff’s home and progressing plans for the Blountville Military Park.
“Blountville can become a showplace,” Houser said.