Denis J. Harrington, of Skaneateles, passed on August 31, 2020 in the presence of loving family. He specialized in the construction and paving of highways, as well as friendships. Born in Auburn in 1929, Denis was the son of the late Joseph Joachim and Mary Carr Harrington. Denis was an altar server for Sacred Heart Church and St. Alphonsus Church, which enabled him to recite the entire Mass in Latin for many years. Denis enjoyed waterskiing on Owasco Lake with his sister, Mary, and in the winter, enjoyed speed skating on frozen Hoopes Park. He graduated from East High School in Auburn, and worked summers for his father’s business, JJ Harrington Concrete Company, pouring concrete foundations for various companies, including Auburn Correctional Facility, Cayuga Community College, Camp Columbus, where his parents donated acres of property, Holy Family Church, Fabin’s Restaurant in Skaneateles, Stella Maris Retreat in Skaneateles, Tice Motel in Skaneateles, the St. Lawrence Seaway, and Assumption College in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, an engineering school which sparked his interest, and where Denis ended up attending. While at Assumption College, Denis frequently traveled across the Ambassador Bridge to Detroit’s cultural communities during the golden age of jazz, enjoying musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and Paul Chambers. He made many friends wherever he ventured. Denis was later drafted into the United States Army by his father, who was on the US Draft Board. He served almost three years driving “Lucky Truck # 11” in the front lines of the Korean War throughout the harsh winters and humid summers. Once released from the war, Denis returned to Auburn, where he continued to work for his father’s business, J.J. Harrington Concrete. He met the love of his life, Susan Mason, a direct descendent of George Mason, the “Father of the U.S. Bill of Rights” and they married in St. Alphonsus Church 1955, with 500 guests. After having four children, Denis and his wife, moved to Florida, and secured a job with Rinker Materials, and was responsible for supervising the installation of concrete work in West Palm Beach, and Titusville, Florida, where his fifth child was born. Denis championed the building of the concrete platform for the NASA Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. Denis advised the mixing, temperature control, and pouring of 65,000 cubic yards of concrete for this structure, the only facility in the USA that assembles rockets and sends humans to space and to the moon. The VAB is a national landmark. Denis and Susan met NASA astronauts and scientists while they resided in Florida, and continued to watch rockets launch over the years. Last September, NASA sent Denis a card for his 90th birthday. Proud to know that the US space missions have all occurred from the platform for which he guided its construction, Denis’s last mission that he eagerly watched was SpaceX Falcon 9 in May, 2020.
Following his employment in Florida, Denis and Susan moved back to NYS where he worked as a sales manager for Barrett Paving in Jamesville, Barrett Paving in Watertown, Allied Chemical in Syracuse, Santaro in Syracuse, Richard Way in Skaneateles, and Syracuse Supply. For decades, Denis traveled to quarries in NYS on sales business, and loved the thrill of the deal. He was frequently consulted by start-up businesses in paving and highway construction, serving on the Board of Directors. Although he was offered a NYS Department of Transportation Administration Appointment, Denis chose to remain living in Skaneateles, where he and his wife raised five children. Being a boat and water enthusiast, Denis spent a great deal of time on Skaneateles Lake sailing, swimming, and boating with his family and friends. Denis also served on committees for St. Mary’s of the Lake Parish, Founding Board of Directors for Skaneateles Ski Hill, where his family spent many winters Alpine skiing, and on committees as a longtime member of Skaneateles County Club. Denis was an avid golfer for decades and shared birthdays with Arnold Palmer. He played at numerous courses throughout NYS and Florida, including Palm Beach Gardens, from where Jack Nicklaus sent Denis a personalized photo 90th birthday card. Denis and his wife also shared a love for redecorating houses and the adventure of moving. Together, they purchased over 50 homes in which they happily lived during their 60 year marriage. Later in life, Denis and his wife loved spending winters in Florida and easily made many friends. They had a passion for music, reading, golfing, playing couples bridge, and hosting festive parties.
Denis loved a good story – especially if he was telling it! He considered himself a Seanchaí, an Irish storyteller, who told captivating, memorable, and hilarious stories to everyone he met. His family and friends will be forever in awe of his endurance through his very difficult times in life, although due to his optimism, Denis instead would tell his life as an adventure. He loved to recite the Irish Blessing at special family events, and upon receiving visitors, Denis would often say, “Pull up a chair and forget about life; it’s a good thing to do now and then.”
In addition to his parents, Denis was predeceased by his sister, Mary, and her husband Frederick Donovan, of Auburn, and his nephew US Marine Lance Cpl J. Michael Donovan, killed in Vietnam. In addition, Denis was predeceased by his infant son Gerard; wife Susan Mason Harrington in 2015; and son, Denis Patrick “Chip” Harrington in 2017. Left to cherish his memory are: son John (Lynn) Harrington; daughters Mary (Rob) Metz, Kelly (Joe) O’Hara, and Kathleen (Tom) Austin. He also leaves behind 13 adoring grandchildren: Lillian Harrington, Tia (Oscar) Rodriguez, Jon Metz, Chloe Metz, Chelsea Metz, Jennifer (Jack) Bullard, Lindsey (Stephen) Babbles, Amelia O’Hara (Corey Knighton), Kevin (Amy) Austin, Bridget (Stephen) Frymire, Mason (Vanessa) Austin, Robin (Nate) North, and Elizabeth (Antonio) Traiforos. Also surviving are 15 great-grandchildren. Denis also leaves behind nephew Tim (Marilyn) Donovan, of Auburn, nieces Karen (Michael) Dudden of Skaneateles, Lynn (Mark) Sinicropi of Auburn; his sister-in-law NancyLee Cute of Homer; his brother-in-law, Dr. George Mason (Alicia), of Florida, as well as many friends who will miss his outgoing, friendly, optimistic spirit.
A special thank you to the staff at Auburn Rehabilitation Center for their compassionate care and love shown to Denis and his family, especially during his final weeks. His family would like to also thank the staff at SAVES, Skaneateles Fire Department, Skaneateles Village Police, Community General TCU and GEM Care ER; AMR Ambulance, Brookdale Bellevue, and Finger Lakes Center for Living for their exemplary care.
Denis followed his wife Susan’s decision in also making the admirable and noble choice to donate his body for use by medical students studying to become physicians and health care professionals through the Anatomical Gift Donation Program at Upstate Medical Center.
A private funeral Mass at St. Mary’s of the Lake was held for immediate family. A graveside burial with full military honors will be held in the summer of 2021. Contributions in his name may be made to SAVES Volunteer Ambulance, 77 Fennell Street, Skaneateles, NY 13152 or to Skaneateles Fire Department, 77 West Genesee Street, Skaneateles, NY 13152.
Slainté to Denis/Dad/Pop, “and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand”
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