My grandma Mary D’Arcy used to joke with me, my brothers and cousins, telling us that the greatness of a man is measured by his grandchildren.
“That,” my grandma would say, “means your grandfather is a no good (S.O.B.).”
While I would put my grandpa Jerry up against any man who ever walked the face of the Earth, it would not be entirely fair to judge him by his grandchildren.
Mixing in the potentially dangerous DNA cocktail of the Foley, Hansen, Gavigan, Kocher and Davis families is something that cannot be pinned on him.
I am not entirely sure that it is fair to blame my uncle Melvin on my grandpa, either. But the kind of children a guy turns out is a much better barometer to determine the greatness of a man.
Judging by that alone, it is safe to say that Kevin Dennehy, who sadly left us at the age of 59 on Christmas Day, was one of the greatest guys of all time. (Click here for a podcast version of this column, which includes a nod to Gus Janhunen.)
When it comes to covering athletes over the past 25 years in the Mining City, Kevin’s son and daughter, Jake and Keli, are two of my very favorite.
That has so much more to do with the kind of people they are off the field, too.
Without Jake, of course, Butte High would still be looking for its first Class AA State football title since 1991. He booted the 46-yard (and three quarters) field goal as time expired to give the Bulldogs a 38-36 win over Bozeman in the 2012 title game at Naranche Stadium.
My lasting memory of that night is not seeing the ball sail through the uprights or the ensuing celebration. It was seeing Jake, as the fog of approval from ghosts of Naranche’s past rolled in, give his mother an extended hug before climbing on the firetruck for the champions parade around town.
Jake was an unlikely hero of the game. He was relegated to kicker because he injured his shoulder on the first game of his senior season. He was sometimes a shaking field goal kicker, too.
Everyone in Butte — and the rest of the state — remembers Jake for that kick and the 8,000 or so fans storming the field after it went through. It might be the biggest sports moment in the history of our great sports town.
However, it was not even the best thing Jake did as a Bulldog.
When Jake was a sophomore, his good friend and classmate Zach Bunney was diagnosed with leukemia. Along with friend Brock Bond, Jake led the charge to raise money for Zach’s fight by selling wristbands.
That rally of support had to help as Zach won his battle and returned to the gridiron.
I first got to know Jake when he was a sophomore. Because of a gruesome broken arm he suffered in football that year, he could not play basketball. So, among other ways to stay a part of the team, Jake sat next to me on the scorer’s table and kept stats.
We had a lot of fun, laughing and joking around the entire season.
Two years later — and several inches taller and probably 40 pounds heavier — Jake rejoined the basketball team to help, mainly on defense, down the stretch of the season. He helped Butte High upset Bozeman in a playoff game in Bozeman to qualify for the Class AA State tournament.
Yes, Jake is a boogeyman in Bozeman.
That June, Jake and Zach shared the distinguished Harry “Swede” Dahlberg Outstanding Boy Athlete Award at Butte High.
Jake was also a valedictorian of the Class of 2013, and he went on to earn a doctorate in physical therapy.
Amazingly, he is probably the third best athlete in his family.
His mother, the former Liza Merrifield, was a trailblazer when it comes to women’s sports in Butte and Montana. You name the sport, and Liza was great at it.
She was a three-time national champion speedskater. She also earned All-State honors in track, golf and cross country. A member of the National Speed Skating Hall of Fame, Liza was inducted into the Butte Sports Hall of Fame in 1997.
Someday, she will surely be joined in that Hall by her daughter Keli, who is one of the best runners the Mining City has ever seen.
Keli earned All-State in cross country four times, and that is the hardest sport to earn such a distinction. An athlete has to be in the top 15 to earn that honor. Keli placed eighth as a freshman, 14th as a sophomore and third as a junior and again as a senior.
I will always believe that she would have won the title as a senior if she did not miss much of the season with a leg injury.
In track, she won the State title in the 3,200-meter race as a junior and senior.
Keli, who was a valedictorian of the Butte High Class of 2013, went on to run for the Montana Grizzlies.
The thing I remember most about Keli’s career, though, was how she was always smiling — even when I would interview her within seconds of winning a 3-mile race.
In basketball, Keli was mostly a reserve player who contributed off the bench. After games, she would often track down one of the stars of the game so I would have an interview for my story in the newspaper.
Usually if you see Keli or Jake, you will see the entire family. The four of them were almost always together. When it comes to great Mining City families, those Dennehys are second to none.
When Liza was running the computer to time a cross country or track meet, Kevin was there, offering a kind, helping hand with a genuine smile on his face.
Whether he was at the Montana Power, Touch America or St. James Healthcare, Kevin was a pillar in our community. And, he never seemed to be in a bad mood.
He was always there to enthusiastically work meets in track, cross country and speedskating. He worked road races and coached Little Guy Football, baseball, basketball and soccer, giving his time to the youth of the Mining City and well beyond.
He did it without fanfare or reward.
Every place needs a Kevin Dennehy. They just do not work without guys like him, and his loss will be felt in Butte for decades to come.
Now that he is gone, we just have to be grateful that he was here. We have to be particularly happy that he met Liza at Montana Tech in 1989 and that together the couple raised two amazing children.
If you truly judge the greatness of a many by his children, then Kevin Dennehy will go down as one of the very best.
His parents must have been pretty outstanding, too.
— Bill Foley can be reached at email@example.com.Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74. Listen to the ButteCast on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.
Great article on my brother Kevin, he was a great guy!
Kevin was a great guy with a big heart. One of my favorite students at South Central yrs. ago. Always looking out for the underdog and doing all he could to be a team player. Will be missed and always remembered.
Kevin is part of the family that I have known for over 50 years. Unfortunately, I did not know Kevin. I know John Mike, Bernie, and Mary Kay. They are great people and are proud Butte people. It is hard losing a sibling, but memories will live on. My condolences and sympathies for the Dennehy family