Come Yah Tales

Jenneys settle into Beaufort after serving, giving around the world

January 4, 2011 

Mary Ellen and Dave Jenney may be retired, but lack of work and things to fill their days is not a problem for this dynamic duo. They were both born and reared in New Hampshire, traveled the world and volunteered tirelessly everywhere they have gone together.

The busy couple decided to take advantage of the warm Beaufort-area climate 18 months ago to ease Dave's Parkinson Disease symptoms and to be closer to their daughter, Lisa, and her family. Mary Ellen and Dave bought the first and only house they saw on Lady's Island.

They grew up in the same state but did not meet until a fateful snowball fight one winter afternoon on the University of New Hampshire campus in the early 1960s.

"Dave's fraternity was across the street from my sorority, and I smushed his face with a big snowball. I thought he was cute," Mary Ellen said.

Dave remembers the night in vivid detail.

"Four or five girls grabbed me, knocked me down and Mary Ellen rubbed snow in my face," he said. "We had a class together, and after a month, I asked her out. She didn't agree right away, but by Christmas of 1962, she gave in. She came to my Christmas party, and that was the start of it."

Dave graduated from UNH a year ahead of Mary Ellen and joined the United States Air Force, where he was trained as a navigator in Waco, Texas.

"We were married after I graduated, and we moved to Sacramento, Calif., where Dave was stationed," Mary Ellen said. "He became an instructor, and our two daughters, Lisa and Pam, were born."

RAISING A FAMILY

Mary Ellen stayed home with their girls but soon began volunteering outside the home.

"She has done an incredible amount of work through the years," Dave said. "She got involved everywhere as we moved from place to place."

After four years in California, Dave was stationed in New Hampshire, and the family was excited to return to its home state.

The return was short-lived, though. Dave was sent to Vietnam for six months, and when he returned, his B52 squadron left Pease Air Force Base, leading the Jenney family on to "the middle of nowhere," Minot, N.D.

"I was sad to leave New Hampshire," Mary Ellen said. "We were only there nine months, and we lived six or seven miles from UNH, where we met. We loved it."

Mary Ellen enjoyed staying busy while raising Lisa and Pam and quickly became the editor of an Air Force magazine for wives over the course of their four years in chilly North Dakota. The whole family was adjusting to their many military moves.

"Every move was difficult for them," Dave said. "It was not easy, but they adjusted well."

"We have a very strong, close-knit family," daughter Lisa said. "My mom put in so much extra effort to make our house a home. She moved antiques and an incredible amount of furniture from place to place for us."

Their next stop was Omaha, Neb., in 1978, where Mary Ellen taught a sewing class for the local recreation department. Besides her growing volunteer work, she began working part time at a savings and loan firm and became a real-estate appraiser.

She took on interior design classes while the girls attended high school and briefly worked for Montgomery Ward in interior design.

SLOWING DOWN

Meanwhile, Dave was busy working in cruise missile development and promoted to colonel in 1984.

The family moved to their longtime home in Lake Ridge, Va., and Dave worked at the Pentagon.

"I worked with the joint chiefs of staff," he said. "I was doing more nuclear operations policy."

When Dave was asked to move to Belgium for three years to work with NATO, Mary Ellen and Lisa moved with Dave, while Pam attended her first year of college. Mother and daughter traveled often, visiting Germany and France.

"Dave also traveled a lot, and I would go with him," Mary Ellen said. "We went to Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy and Switzerland."

Lisa further developed her blooming love of dècor as they picked their way through European lace, tapestries, carpets and crystal.

"Even as a child, I loved interior design," Lisa, the owner of M Home & Garden & Interiors in Beaufort, said. "I used to pore through decorating magazines that my mom subscribed to, and it developed as I got older. Belgium gave me a chance to explore with my mother."

The family returned to the U.S. in the late 1980s, and Dave worked for two years at Andrews Air Force Base before retirement from the military in 1991. The average retirement plan did not suit Dave, so he helped Mary Ellen around the house for one year before eventually buying a picture-framing business with four employees that lasted eight years.

"I finally got back into interior design," Mary Ellen said, "and we had accessories and were known for our floral design."

After retiring herself in 2001, Mary Ellen dove into volunteering more, teaching English as a Second Language classes. She even pulled Dave into being a literacy volunteer with her at their Catholic church.

He eventually sold off his framing business and explored his passion for baseball, umpiring more than 100 games each season. The military man has Parkinson's but refused to let that slow him down in his post-military career. His active life began to include bocce, tennis, ping-pong and anything competitive.

Now that they've started their lives in Beaufort, service to the community is at the top of Mary Ellen's goal list. The couple have yet to get involved with any local organizations, but that is something Mary Ellen wants to change. "We love it here," she said.

"We have been visiting for years, and people are so welcoming and friendly. We have just settled into our home. Dave plays tennis three days a week, and I plan to volunteer as much as I can."

That sense of community -- and the importance of participation -- is a trait they have passed on to their children.

"I could not even try to live up to them, but they have instilled a sense of volunteerism in us," Lisa said. "They have fully embraced giving back and a desire to help others. I do what I can but I aspire to do so much more because of them."

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