Tiny Town, USA – I was too busy playing newspaper to catch the moment, so a buddy had to point it out to me: Mark Sammo had just said a prayer for Bernie Milton. His band, The Dixie Kats, had completed their set as part of the celebration for the Commons rebuilding launch on Monday, April 8. Mark wanted people to remember the space for having served as the site for so much live entertainment, since its inception in 1974, when the Commons was built. There will be a new Bernie Milton Pavilion, but that will be another space, in another time.
Then it hit me: What was Mark doing out in public? Or rather -- how ...
And this is the saddest thing: In March, Mark's sweetheart, Donna Dennis, traveled to Fairview, Montana, to help her ailing mother.
I didn't know Donna Dennis; but Mark is as familiar to me as the wooded hills flanking this town.
Last month I learned that Donna died during her trip in Montana, March 22.
Not even a month ago.
And there on a Monday April 8 was Mark Sammo, belting out the blues New Orleans-style, with his band, the last group to perform on that spot, forever. And in the end, he prayed for that space and for what it has meant to Ithaca.
When we spoke a while later that Monday, he invited me to share this information:
On Sunday, April 14, at the Oasis Dance Club, there will be a Memory Celebration for Donna Dennis. Mark says it will be handled New Orleans-style, with a funeral march and dirge, followed by a lot of music and dance.
I want to extend my sincere condolences to all relations of Donna Dennis, and especially to Mark, who, by honoring his love of music and continuing to perform through his shock and grief, teaches me more than I can express about how a man might move through this life with courage and grace. Thank you, Mark.
– franklin crawford
Donna Dennis. Image provided by Mark Sammo.
Below is an obituary composed in Donna's memory that Mark has shared with us, only slightly edited.
Donna Dennis, a school bus aide serving the Ithaca City School System, died on March 22, following an automobile accident in Montana. She was 57.
Ms. Dennis was born on Oct. 22, 1955 at Ft. Benning, GA, the daughter of George and Elsie (Lester) Dennis. She worked as an entrepreneurial freight broker for the Sunteck Transport Group until her death. In 2011, Donna moved to Ithaca, where she worked for the Ithaca City School's transport system.
Ms. Dennis was in Fairview, MT, caring for her ailing mother at the time of her death.
Ms. Dennis is survived by her two sons, Richard (Kari) Reidle, Trenton, N.D.; and, Elijah (Kelsey Johnson) Reidle, Fairview, MT; her daughter, Kelsey (Michael) Cochran, McDonough, GA; her mother and step-father, Elsie and Ernest Carstens, Fairview, MT; her brother, Perry (Patty) Dennis, Mission, TX; her sister, Cheryl (Ed) Yadon, Fairview, MT; two treasured grandchildren and several nieces and nephews; and, Mr. Sammo, Ithaca, N.Y., her beloved partner.
She was preceded in death by her father, George Perry “Pete” Dennis and her infant brother, James Mark Dennis.
Funeral services were held for Donna Dennis, in Sidney, MT, on April 2, 2013.
Mr. Sammo asks that all who would care to celebrate the life of Donna Dennis and the love he shared with her to please join him and friends for the event described above, at Oasis Dance Club.