Peaceful home sweet home: Denny and Pamela Rook

Published 7:29 pm Friday, February 7, 2014

by Kiesa Kay

The Neapolitan mastiff bounded outdoors, wagging her tail enthusiastically.

Denny Rook smiled as he said, “Welcome! That’s Chloe. She’s a rescue dog.”

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The air smelled sweet and clean on the Rooks’ two acres of land, tucked away from traffic. Chloe leads the way into the house, where paintings on the wall show natural beauty and an exquisite interplay of light and shadow. Rook’s wife, Pamela, enjoys painting.

“That one’s my favorite,” Rook said, indicating a large, framed painting of a cabin in dappled sunlight. “It’s at the top of White Oak.”

The delicious scent of chili wafted across the living room. Rook likes to cook and he makes his own flavorful scuppernong wine. He told his wine secret: fermenting the scuppernong grapes with 10 pounds of sugar instead of five pounds will intensify the flavor. Rook modified the press a bit, and when the season’s right, he also presses apples into cider. As he cooked a big pot of chili at home, he talked about this Saturday, when he’ll be cooking three kinds of chili for the Kiwanis fundraiser.

“For the Kiwanis dinner, we’ll have beans, no beans and vegetarian chili,” he says. “The vegetarian chili’s made with sweet potatoes.”

The event will occur from 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday at Holy Cross Episcopal Church in Tryon, and Rook will lead the cooking, as he often does. He took a trip to the Spartanburg Sam’s Club to get all the supplies needed for feeding 300 people. He also cooked for the Kiwanians spaghetti dinner fundraiser.

“I always try to help out wherever I can,” Rook said. “We always have plenty of good volunteers to help. It’s a lot of work, chopping lettuce and getting everything ready, but there’s a lot of help to do it. I’ll make the vegetarian chili a night early.”

Rook has been with Kiwanis for two years, and he likes spending time with people who care about other people. His tastebuds get a workout, too, at the annual Blue Ridge BBQ and Music Festival. He attended his first one in 1996 and had so much fun that he decided to keep coming back. He has done cooker check-in at the festival for 15 years, and he’s a certified barbecue judge, with a palate ready to experience diverse flavors and spices.

“I’ve always cooked around the house,” he said.

Rook also likes to fix things. He has been a Habitat for Humanity construction volunteer for 15 years.

“I’ve helped with 36 houses and numerous rehab projects,” he said. “I like the camaraderie of the guys.”

Rook’s accustomed to people working together to get things done for the community. He worked in the police force in the town of Silver Lake, OH, for 30 years, moving his way up the ranks until he retired as chief of police. He met his wife, Pamela, at work there. In work, marriage, and community volunteering, Rook has maintained a personal dedication to treating others with kindness and integrity.

“I believe in treating others the way you’d like to be treated yourself,” he said.

After Rook’s retirement, the couple searched through North Carolina and Virginia before they found their way to Tryon.

“Every year for several years in a row, we came down to this neck of the woods,” Pamela said. “We were looking for nicer weather, but all four seasons. We figured we’d need to live west of 77 and south of 40.”

Rook opened up the Tryon Daily Bulletin and saw a photo of his good friend Larry Callahan, a man he’d not seen for 20 years, who had worked in the town next to him in Ohio. His buddy ran for sheriff but didn’t get the election. Instead, he got a visit from the Rooks.

“He showed us this area and made us feel at home,” Rook said.

Rook enjoys his retirement. He worked for the police department for most of his adult life, but he’d seen something of the country before he settled into his Ohio years.

“Straight out of high school, I went on six-month tour of the United States,”  Rook said. “A buddy and I drove to Yellowstone, Oregon, California, Tijuana in Mexico, through Carlsbad Caverns, New Orleans, and Key West. We were gone six months, slept in the car and ate a lot of Spam. I came home to work in Monroe Falls, Ohio, and became friends with the head of service there. He took me under his wing in 1963. I moved up the ranks, sergeant to lieutenant to chief, then retired 21 years ago.”

Rook had built a new police department in Silver Lake, Ohio, growing from one room to taking over five or six garage bays. The community had affluence, and he’d handled many burglaries and accidents. Like officers in many small towns, Rook had to multitask and respond to all kinds of crimes. They also had raised two children, a son who works as a chef for the Portage Country Club in Akron, Ohio, and a daughter who works as a certified public accountant in Columbus, Ohio.

They enjoyed their home, but a bitter cold snap got them thinking. The Rooks realized together that they had no doubts that it was time to go south.

“Our last year in Ohio had record-breaking snow,” Pamela said. “It snowed 105 inches that year.”

They both share enthusiasm for organic gardening, so the longer growing season has been a bonus, too. They moved into the original house in their valley, on land that used to be part of Kennedy Vineyards, and started a good garden. They get most of their heritage seeds from the Patriot Supply Company, and Pamela has decided to plant the land with edible landscaping. Soil testing showed a need for more magnesium and nitrogen in the garden, so they have a special mix to help establish the newly turned garden and enhance the original one. They attended a four-week seminar at the Seventh Day Adventist Church that gave them a new perspective on food and how to grow a garden.

“Some people say since heritage seeds are not genetically modified, when you put up your peppers or cucumbers or whatever, you’re putting up food with more nutrition to it,” Pamela said. “Some people do squabble about it. Hybrids look pretty, but they have less nutrition.”

Rook saves their eggshells, crushing them up to add calcium to the garden bed. Their dog ignored that box of eggshells until some organic chicken eggs got put in here, and then she had to take a taste.

“Organic foods taste a little different, maybe better, but I think the dog’s nose definitely could tell which smelled better. The dog’s nose knows,” Pamela said. “There was a field test of hybrid and heritage field corn, with both put on a post, and the squirrels tried a few kernels off the top of the hybrid, but they ate all of that heritage corn. I believe in the squirrels and the dog.”

They have plans for even more blueberries, raspberries, and fruit trees. Rook cleared part of the land so they could put more edible landscaping there. In their basement, heat pads and grow lights help saved seeds get a good start in life, and Pamela plans to have a greenhouse in the near future.

Rook attributes his happiness to having Pamela in his life.

“She’s a good woman,” he said.

She added, “Peaceful people make peaceful homes.”

While Rook volunteers for many organizations during the days, Pamela works as a custodian and sometimes in the cafeteria at Sunny View Elementary School.

“I like working, but I’m looking forward to retirement,” she said. “Then I can spend more time here.”

They enjoy being together, being in this community, and being in their garden. Truth to tell, there’s nowhere else they really want to go.

“Tonight I might get in the hot tub,” Rook said. “We like to stay close to home.”