Dennis J. Conklin (1939-2021)
Banjo player, Chinese linguist, cartoonist, attorney
Dennis Conklin departed this life on March 10 at age 81 at his home in Stockton NJ with his wife Barbara at his bedside.
Dennis’ childhood in Peekskill NY was spent reading comic books, swimming in Lake Mahopac, disassembling anything mechanical and watching NY Central’s steam-powered locomotives pass through Mahopac. From these years came Dennis’ enduring fondness for all things mechanical – locomotives, old cameras, wind-up clocks and automobiles.
Dennis enlisted in the US Air Force at 17, where he was selected for Chinese Language training by Robert Tharp, founder of the Yale Institute of Far Eastern Languages, an affiliate of NSA and the US Air Force Security Service. Following IFEL graduation in 1957 and four years of intelligence work in Taiwan for USAFSS, Dennis toured the far east with his friends. He was particularly fond of old Taipei for its tottering buildings and Dickensian cast of residents.
Dennis later attended Princeton University’s Critical Languages Program and studied at the University of Hawaii, Middlebury College and Columbia University. He was awarded a degree in Oriental Studies from Rutgers University in 1968. Between grants, Dennis learned how to keep a VW in running order and obtained a banjo which he played “after a fashion” all his life. He toured swaths of America and Canada with friends in his VW microbus, at speeds occasionally exceeding 45 miles per hour. He was a dedicated photographer and an enthusiastic cartoonist of frogs, his favorite animal. To pay for car parts and cameras, Dennis held a variety of jobs which generated a lifetime of anecdotes – Fish and Game warden in Alaska; personnel manager at E.J. Korvette’s in North Brunswick, where he was known affectionately as “Tojo” by locals unfamiliar with far eastern languages; guide for the Italian news network RAI covering the Vietnam war protests in Washington and NY; caseworker for the NYC Department of Social Services and later, Director of legal and medical assistance programs for the city’s SRO hotels.
After receiving his law degree from Rutgers-Newark in 1975, Dennis became a staff attorney for the Office of Inmate Legal Services in Rahway Prison. He was a member of the NJ Bar Association’s Correctional Reform Committee, focusing on speedy trial legislation. He wrote New Jersey’s first Prisoner’s Legal Manual which provided legal analysis and forms for prisoners representing themselves in state and federal court litigation.
Dennis joined the NJ Attorney General’s office in 1980 where he became expert in programs administered by the NJ Department of Human Services. As a Senior Deputy Attorney General, he briefed and argued the state and federal cases which established the legal principles and procedures for social service programs that serve millions of New Jersey residents. He was a superb writer and legal advocate. In his private time, Dennis built his own computer, which he used for years, and continued tinkering with cameras and clocks. He acquired more banjos and switched from fixing old VWs to fixing old Volvos. Following retirement in 2007, he built an extensive wood-working shop in his garage and built arts-and-crafts style furniture featuring beautiful joinery and expert-level finishes. He had a sonorous voice and sang bass in the choir at St. Andrew’s Church in Lambertville NJ. His recordings of the choir are on YouTube. He was a member of the church Vestry.
Dennis is survived by his wife of 32 years, Barbara, his sister Bonnie Kosakowski of Cleveland, nephew Glen Hlavsa, nieces Jacqueline Kelly Hlavsa-Morales and Dawn Hlavsa-Suk, all of New Jersey, and a dear, honorary nephew, Scott St. Peter of Peekskill NY. He was predeceased by his sisters Jacqueline and Irene and his Uncle Francis Conklin and wife, Sally, of Peekskill NY.
Relatives and friends are invited to attend funeral services on Thursday, March 18, 2021 at 1 pm at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 50 York Street, Lambertville, NJ 08530. Interment will follow at Rosemont Cemetery, 100 Kingwood-Stockton Road (Rt. 519), Rosemont, NJ 08556.
For the safety and comfort of all attendees must wear masks and maintain social distancing
To attend church services remotely: COPY AND PASTE THIS LINK: https://livestream.com/aritonvideolive/conklin
A memorial gathering will be announced at a later date.
Donations in Dennis’ memory may be made to Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 50 York Street, Lambertville NJ 08530 (www.Standrewslambertville.org), which desperately needs a new roof, or to the Seashore Trolley Museum, 195 Log Cabin Road, Kennebunkport, Maine 04046 which restores and operates the trolley cars Dennis so loved.