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For the first few decades of its existence, the most reliable force guiding Fort Reno was undoubtedly Father George Dennis. Until he moved to a retirement home in Los Gatos, Calif., in 2005, the Jesuit priest guided volunteers, occasionally mediated between government agencies, and upheld the vision behind the series. He died last year, but nearly everyone who participated in this article expressed great fondness for him. His humble presence left an indelible presence on countless D.C. residents, and the series would have been unlikely to continue all these years without his efforts.
Rick Servatius, 55, volunteered on the Tenleytown Neighborhood Planning Concul youth board in 1968 and 1069: Father George was our mentor. He happened to be a Jesuit, but there was nothing religious to it. Even my high school graduation, he came to the graduation party. Father George was hyper-involved in the early days, especially with the youth. Father George was the mortar that kept us together, he was the energy. He was always available. You would’ve never known he was a Jesuit priest, he was just a good guy.
Natasha Stovall, 40, booked Fort Reno in the early 1990s: He seemed really committed, and he was very humble. The kids really felt like he was there.
Eric Blitte, 50, owns Tenleytown Painting: He was a pretty cool guy. He helped a lot of kids. He just kind of shook his head at us because he couldn’t get through to us.
Servatius: We did a lot of silk-screening at his house. We silk-screened posters, we silk-screened shirts. We did five and six colors for band shirts and other T-shirts; some of the posters are still around.
Mike Kanin, 34, booked Fort Reno in the late 1990s, played in The Better Automatic, The No-Gos, Trooper, Black Eyes: Father George, he was one of the nicest dudes. He was awesome. Nice is such a shitty fucking way to describe someone. He kind of, it’s hard to say [what he did], he would keep things in line, keep the city in line, keep everything working. I called a bunch of bands I would want to see, he was real good about reminding us that it wasn’t just about that, it was a place our peers could play, like kids could play there. He encouraged us a lot.
Paul Strauss, 47, D.C. shadow senator and former chair of the Neighborhood Planning Council: Father George was always our last card. If we were having trouble with the park police, as a last resort, we sent him in with a collar. He didn’t always wear a collar, but it helped when he did.
Tina Plottel, 39, played in Claudine, Torches: Father George was like a de facto advisor.
Carleton Ingram, 38, booked Fort Reno 1996-1999, played in The Better Automatic: Father George did a lot of community outreach with Wilson high school. He would actually be aware of what was going on, and for the opening band slots, he would say some kids approached me about playing.
Servatius: He drove a Volkswagon with a racing stripe and was just a great guy.
Strauss: Father George Dennis was the patron saint of Fort Reno.