The only stone in this Camden graveyard belongs to an amazing man
CAMDEN — The Oak Hill Cemetery is one of two public cemeteries in Camden, Maine, a fact that unto itself is nothing unusual. However, to pass by the Oak Hill north side of the cemetery on Hosmer Pond Road, there is one lone gravestone sitting in the middle of a snowy field, which is unusual.
The man it belongs to, Reginald Dean, was 83 when he passed away after a long illness in May 29, 2018.
“There are currently 62 lots mapped out with each lot holding eight individual grave spaces,” according to Bruce Libby, cemetery sexton. “The stone that you see just happens to be the first upright monument installed since the bylaws were revised in 2013 allowing uprights to be placed in the back section. The front section allows only flush markers of which there is also just one in place. There will be more installed in the spring.”
With help from Dean’s daughter, Rhondalee Dean-Royce, we were able to find out more about Reginald Dean.
Born November 19, 1934 in Milo, Maine, Dean didn’t have an easy life from the start.
“He was born in northern Maine and had a really hard upbringing,” said Dean-Royce. “He lived on a farm and had parents who couldn’t really take care of him. He only had his mom, who wasn’t ready to take care of him full-time so he grew up with his foster parents, Osmond and Leta Hammond, of Camden, whom I consider my grandparents.”
He worked as a master carpenter and cabinet maker.
“There are quite a few house that he built or renovated in Camden, Lincolnville, Rockport, and Rockland area,” said Dean-Royce. “He also built amazing furniture, including a lot of Shaker-style furniture.”
But like many young men his age, the war in Vietnam would take his life in a different direction. Dean served three tours during the Vietnam War in the U.S. Army, rising to the rank of Captain.
“He really worked hard in everything he did,” said his daughter.
“To me he was an amazing person,” said Dean-Royce. “My degree in college was in history, with a focus on Vietnam, so I got to know what he went through. I worked at Togus for while and worked with some of the veterans there. When I was 25, we still lived in Camden by the river and he spent a whole weekend with me and told me all about what happened in Vietnam. He said ‘Now, you’re going to understand what I tell you.’ It took him awhile to be able to talk about it.”
When Dean-Royce moved to Washington, D.C., in 1997, she encouraged her father to visit two years later and see the Vietnam Wall with her.
While down there, after visiting with other veterans, Dean admitted to her he wasn’t ready to see the Wall.
“But, the next day he went with me and it was extremely moving,” she said. “He took it really slowly. The first time you see this Wall, it’s overwhelming. So, as he was standing there, these two old guys came up to him and one of them says, ‘I think I know you.’ And my dad said, ‘OK,’ like he wasn’t sure. And the other guy said, ‘Captain Dean?’ It was one of the men who was in his original troop. Pretty impressive.”
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As for his personal life, Dean married Thelma Iona Small on June 3, 1956 in Camden. They had a daughter, Rhondalee, and four sons, Michael, Christopher, Timothy and Jeffrey.
“After the war, he came home and worked a lot of different jobs,” said Dean-Royce. “He worked for the town of Camden, and other carpentry jobs. He also went back to school and got his bachelor’s degree in history and science. He ended up teaching for a little while in Belfast and also coaching their baseball team. He had fond memories of teaching and helping kids.”
Dean had a lifelong love of the outdoors and and as a skilled outdoorsman, he enjoyed traveling around the state to both sharp shooter and archery tournaments.
“We would spend our weekends traveling and camping all over Maine and New England,” said Dean-Royce. “He taught all my brothers and I how to hunt, fish, camp, canoe and explore the wilderness. We were always outside doing something.”
He was also, for a time, the caretaker of Curtis Island Light House.
“That was such a special time,” said Dean-Royce. “As a kid, I got to to Curtis Island many summers, while he took care of the mowing and the lighthouse.”
As for the lone monument in the front section, it’s what Dean wanted.
“He picked out the black, shiny stone and he wanted to be in that particular place,” said Dean-Royce. “Three days before he passed away, we walked to that Oak Hill Cemetery and he told me, “I like this place. I don’t want to be in the back. I want to be in the front where I can watch everything.’
“I look back my life with my dad and think I was the luckiest person to have a dad like him,” she said. “He was my hero, and my calming voice and shoulder anytime I needed him. He provided us with unending love, strength and support. I miss him every day. I miss his smile. His hands. His face and his old Maine humor. My heart will always be broken, but I know what he did for us and the life we had and it makes me smile. He is one of the most honorable men I know. I don’t want his memory forgotten.”
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org