Wetumpka icon leaves lasting legacy for communityPublished 7:41am Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Wetumpka lost one of its most beloved residents early Tuesday morning. Jack DeVenney, 88, died at his home after spending Monday in his usual fashion – working, attending Lions Club meeting and running various errands around town.
For many people, DeVenney was “Mr. Wetumpka.” The majority of the city’s annual events – as well as some one-time activities – were originally envisioned, organized and executed by the Pennsylvania native who adopted Wetumpka as his home in 1969.
He was the driving force behind many of the city’s most popular events, as well as the several patriotic observances held each year.
From the stroke of midnight to usher in a new year to the final tick of an old one, his ideas and energy were behind countless events now traditional in Wetumpka.
Over the past few years, DeVenney has passed the torch to others to continue the bulk of the activities he initiated. Among the events he started are Wetumpka’s annual New Year’s Eve celebration, Easter Egg Hunt, Memorial Day observance, Fourth of July fireworks show, Veterans Day ceremony and Pearl Harbor remembrance.
He also co-founded the yearly luminary display and enlisted local artist Austin Martin to create a crest for Wetumpka. DeVenney organized a merchants association in the city that operated for 17 years; then was instrumental in re-establishing a chamber of commerce.
The city’s largest annual event – Christmas on the Coosa – is his brainchild. In addition to the street parade and river activities, DeVenney organized the first tree lighting in 1975 and initiated the Christmas on the Coosa pageants associated with the festival.
The first Christmas parade was organized in 1972 and consisted of one float, the Wetumpka High School Band, children on bicycles and a little girl in a wagon. The street parade grew larger and larger over the ensuing dozen years, then in 1984 the name Christmas on the Coosa was officially adopted.
DeVenney also worked to establish a display of military service and other flags on the lawn of the old Elmore County Courthouse. In addition, he solicited information about county military veterans and published two armed forces log books that were subsequently distributed to libraries. At the time of his death, he was collecting submissions for a third edition.
In past years, he also spearheaded “Letters from Home” efforts to encourage local residents to write to deployed service personnel.
Along with his passion for his hometown and his patriotism, DeVenney had a history of significant contributions to the twirling and drumming world.
He began twirling when he was a high school sophomore, but his involvement in band-related activities began much earlier. At the age of five, he was the mascot for his father’s American Legion drum and bugle corps. In 1936, he was a drummer in a national drum and bugle corps.
DeVenney was a World War II veteran, serving in the U.S. Navy from 1943 to 1945. In 1943 he was in the Great Lakes Naval Training Station drum and bugle corps.
After he married his wife, Shirley, he moved to Wetumpka.
DeVenney was renowned in twirling circles and an inductee to the National Baton Twirling Association Hall of Fame. He was a pioneer in the development of spinning, twirling and tossing tall flags, double flags, capes, rifles, devil sticks, knives, hoops and more. He also performed with numerous celebrities and served as national rules commissioner.
He is one of only eight people ever awarded the honorary title of Major by the NBTA. The designation is given to those whose accomplishments have significantly furthered twirling and related activities.
Until the time of his death, he and his wife continued to coordinate twirling events, teach baton and dance to youngsters and run their Wetumpka business, A Touch of Class.
In addition to his involvement with the Wetumpka Lions Club, he was a member of the Wetumpka Industrial Development Board for many years, was a member of VFW Post 4572 and actively supported the Wetumpka Senior Center.
Funeral services will be held Saturday at 11 a.m. at First United Methodist Church of Wetumpka.