In sharp contrast to the many banalities and pathologies of our current culture stands the group that earned the nickname, “The Greatest Generation.” Generally believed to be those Americans born between about 1901 and 1927, this was a cohort that often grew up in large families where children had to share, suffered the countless deprivations of the Great Depression, and rose to the challenge of defending liberty in World War II. To our loss, the remaining members of that group are elderly and we are losing them rapidly. The Roanoke, Virginia community lost one such member recently, Mr. Dennis Booze. Booze was 96.
Booze was born the fifth of seven children who grew up on a farm in the Springwood area of Botetourt County, Virginia in 1926. For those who enjoy floating the historic James River, Springwood is on the popular, scenic stretch between Eagle Rock and Buchanan. In 1926, a pound of cheese cost about 38 cents while round beef steak was even cheaper, at 36 cents a pound. This is because the US dollar has lost about 94% of its value since 1926. In 1923-1929, the President was Calvin Coolidge. In contrast to most of our current politicians who are known for verbosity, Coolidge was known by the moniker “Silent Cal.”
To illustrate Coolidge’s taciturnity, he was once at a reception at the White House when two women approached him. Seeking to get him flustered, one woman quipped, “Mr. President, I bet my friend I could get you to say more than five words.” Coolidge cooly responded: “You lose.”
Dennis Booze turned 18 in 1944, and fortunately that came late enough so that he was not drafted and sent to combat duty in WW II. Some scholars have pointed out that, during the 1944-45 drive to Berlin, US General Eisenhower threw in green troops with almost the same abandon that General Grant did in 1864 on the drive to Richmond, with horrific losses of life. Booze did serve two years in the army during the Korean War era and was based in South Carolina.
At age 25 in 1951, he left the army, came home, and two days after Christmas married his sweetheart, Roberta, age 18. She and he had grown up just about a mile or so apart and used to drive into Roanoke with groups for courting and going to the movies.
While reviewing his life, one is impressed with the remarkable faithfulness and consistency in the same direction.
From their union that began in 1951, the Boozes settled in North Roanoke County and raised a remarkable family of six children to successful adulthood. Tragically, Roberta was stricken late in life with that horrific impairment, dementia. Dennis earned the respect and awe of all who witnessed his faithful, loving care for his sweetheart and wife, even after the impairment had robbed her of her memory. She passed in April 2021, just months shy of what would have been their 70th wedding anniversary in December of that year. However, by counting their time courting, “they were essentially together for seventy years,” as their youngest child Bobby pointed out in an interview.
Among the couple, Roberta was the more talkative one while Dennis was a man of fewer words. Although demographers may disagree about the exact years, most claim Americans born between 1928-1945 are called “The Silent Generation.” According to FamilySearch.org, “The term “Silent Generation” was first documented in a 1951 Time magazine article, which claimed that the most startling fact about this generation was its silence: ‘By comparison with the Flaming Youth of their fathers and mothers, today’s younger generation is a still, small flame.’ The generation’s ‘silent’ behavior has been attributed to the difficult times in which they were born, as well as their coming of age during McCarthyism.”
Bobby commented that, as his mother’s dementia advanced, his dad opened up more and more which led to many great conversations about his upbringing and other facets of his life.
When their growing brood required more space, the senior Boozes moved from their first home in Hollins to a larger house just south of scenic Green Ridge Mountain. The couple then settled down and lived in that one house for a remarkable 53 years. Such constancy is amazing, especially when you consider the average American will move 11.4 times in his or her lifetime.
As residents in North Roanoke County, they joined a nearby Methodist church in 1961 and never left their membership until they left this earth. At the time of his passing, at 96, Booze was the church’s oldest member. That represents 61 years of membership in the same congregation.
A major trait of Booze’s life, and indeed for most of the Greatest Generation, was his quiet service. That church had an annual BBQ Chicken Dinner as a fundraiser, and each year for decades Booze was there, helping grill the chicken and doing whatever else needed to be done, as well as pitching in on church work days, etc.
Interestingly, as the world mourns the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, England’s longest-reigning monarch, the Queen and Booze shared the same bookends of life: 1926-2022. Faithful service to others was a defining trait of that generation. Remarkably, only two days before she passed and at age 96, the Queen was still at work, serving her people. She received the new British Prime Minister Liz Truss and, as a part of her royal responsibilities, agreed to let the new PM form a new government. Likewise, Bobby said his father was always ready to help his family and others who needed him, explaining he can’t count how many times his dad helped various family members move from one home to another.
Booze worked at the same job 40 years, at Reliance Universal (now AkcoNobel) in Salem, where one of his chief responsibilities was testing and matching furniture varnishes and stains, obviously a tedious job that required painstaking attention to detail. His son Bobby remarked that the job “suited my dad’s personality perfectly,” and agreed that his father’s detail-oriented job may have contributed to Bobby making the decision to study accounting at William and Mary.
As possible reasons for Booze’s longevity, he was an avid walker, he and his wife enjoyed square dancing for years, and he loved games. Amazingly, he played in a church volleyball game at the age of 80!
In addition to his love of games and play, Booze was also known for his quiet sense of humor, probably another contributor to his long life. The Bible says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine,” (Proverbs 17:22a). At his father’s memorial service, Bobby explained, “Once when I was in high school I got my car stuck in a ditch when I was trying to leave my girlfriend’s house. Dad came to help and he just laughed and helped pull my car out.”
Booze was fiercly devoted to his family, and his confidence in them helped give them a long-lasting sense of confidence. At the memorial service, Bobby told this touching story: “When I was five years old, my dad was tying my shoes, and I said, ‘Daddy, when I’m six, I’ll be able to tie my own shows by myself.’ ‘I know you will,'” his dad calmly replied. Bobby said, even when he and his siblings were adults and they went to their father for advice, he almost never told them what to do. Instead, his words usually were, “You’ll figure it out. You’ll know what to do.” His final wish before leaving this life was to his large family: “Take care of each other.”
Booze’s final hours on earth show we are both spiritual and physical beings. Hearing his father’s health had taken a sudden turn for the worse, Bobby came in to visit. Upon seeing his youngest child come in, the elder Booze’s first words were: “I’m ready for the Lord to take me.” And just before he passed away, he savored a bowl of chocolate ice cream–one of his few delights since Roberta had left this earth.
Because two people fell in love, they are now survived by 18 grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren.
Reflecting Booze’s steadfast faith in Jesus Christ, the memorial service included the hymns The Old Rugged Cross and Amazing Grace.
In our increasingly-mobile society, where the pace of life is getting faster and relationships come and go, this columnist is grateful for his personal connection to the Booze family. It so happened, when this columnist’s family moved from Indiana to Roanoke in 1965, we attended the same church as the Boozes. Thus, Bobby and I were in the same nursery there, and thus knew each other and were friends from when we were toddlers. Growing up, we were in the same Boy Scout troop and attended grades 7-12 together at Northside Junior High and High Schools. Moreover, we both went to William and Mary as freshmen in 1983 and graduated together in 1987. Simply put, there has never been a time when I did not know Bobby Booze or count him as a friend. In our culture where the social fabric is fraying in so many ways, the value of such consistent community and relationships cannot be overstated.
Bobby now serves in a leadership position with Novo Mission, where via zoom and overseas travel he provides oversight, encouragement and direction to church and Christian ministry leaders across the globe. In this way, part of Dennis Booze’s legacy lives on and has a worldwide scope and impact benefitting countless individuals in numerous ethnic groups, languages, and time zones around the world.
Dennis Booze, 1926-2022, a life abundantly well-lived.
Rest in Peace!