BY LAURA DOUGLASS
Described as “a teacher at heart,” John Dempsey, who spent 33 years at the helm of Sandhills Community College, was honored with the Distinguished Citizen Award by the Moore County Boy Scouts of America, Sandhills District. A dinner and ceremony honoring Dempsey was held Friday, Feb. 24, at The Country Club of North Carolina.
Only the second president in SCC history, Dempsey led the school during an era of exponential growth. The college’s Pinehurst campus has nearly doubled in size since he first took over in 1988, thanks in large part to a series of voter-supported bond measures. Dempsey is also credited with helping to boost the college’s foundation fund from $750,000 to its current balance of about $45 million.
The Distinguished Citizen Award is given annually to a Moore County resident who exemplifies the Boy Scout Oath: “On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”
Brenda Jackson, SCC’s interim president, said Dempsey has a strong moral compass and led “with his true authentic self,” and that each person in his presence feels valued.
Other speakers during the event included Emmet Logan, Heather Lyons, Pat Corso and Dempsey’s adult children, John and Michael.
“He was a captain, a coach, a teacher and the best father two sons could ever have,” said Michael, who also thanked his mother, Evelyn, who also attended the event. ‘You made Dad who he is … He has the ability to make us all want to be better.”
Frank McNeill Jr., recipient of the 2022 Distinguished Citizen Award, presented the award to Dempsey, thanking him for making the community, his hometown, a better place to live. His comments were echoed by Laura Farrell, the 2020 Distinguished Citizen Award recipient, along with her husband, Robbie.
“Thank you for your leadership, your enthusiasm and your quick wit, which has added so much to our lives,” Farrell said.
Dempsey retired from Sandhills Community College on Dec. 21. He is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, where he was in Navy ROTC, and holds a master’s degree in government from the College of William and Mary and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Massachusetts. Dempsey is also a Vietnam veteran and served aboard the USS Rogers and then the USS Sutter County, where he was the executive officer and, ultimately, captain. He also served in the Executive Office of the President during the administration of Jimmy Carter.
Active in community affairs, Dempsey has chaired or served on the boards of the Boys and Girls Club of the Sandhills, the United Way of Moore County, FirstHealth of the Carolinas and numerous other organizations. Those in attendance at the ceremony on Friday included FirstHealth CEO Mickey Foster and Art Medeiros, chairman of the Foundation of FirstHealth; Boys and Girls Club of the Sandhills CEO Steve Kastner and Deon Allbrooks, the club’s director of operations; and other notable officials including a number of previous Distinguished Citizen Award recipients.
Dempsey has been named Man of the Year by the Moore County Community Foundation, received the Distinguished Service Award of the Pinehurst Civic Group, received the Builders’ Cup Award from the Kiwanis of the Sandhills, and in 2004 was the inaugural recipient of the United Way of Moore County’s Cornerstone Award.
Initiated in 2003, the Distinguished Citizen Award is the hallmark of recognition events for Boy Scouting in Moore County. Previous recipients include Dr. Bruce Warlick, Bill Samuels, Dr. Ward Oakley, George and Teena Little, Edward T. Taws Jr., Frank McNeill Sr., former Gov. James Holshouser, Don McKenzie, Don Van Roosen, Larry Caddell, George Atherholt, Gregg Allen, Pat Corso, Johnny Burns, Jim Whitlock, Jimmy Melton, David Kilarski, Robbie and Laura Farrell, Jamie Boles and Frank McNeill Jr.
Sponsors for this year’s event included Sandhills Community College, Aberdeen Coca-Cola, Pat and Gregg Allen, Bell Manley Properties, Boles Funeral Home, Duke Energy, First Bank, McNeill Oil and Propane, O’Connor Company and Veterans Guardian.