By Melanie Young
Upon the death of longtime Trenton teacher Dennis Hamilton, a news report on one of the Detroit television stations described him as a “huge figure in the local television community.” That alone would be a remarkable tribute, but there was so much more to the beloved teacher, and all those who knew him continue to mourn his loss.
Mr. Hamilton, 67, died March 7, 2017, after a brief illness. The news came as a shock to many who were not aware he was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. A fixture at Trenton High School events even after his retirement, his absence already is being felt.
“For so many of us in Trenton, Dennis has been a part of our lives forever,” Trenton High School Principal Michael Doyle said.”
As a teacher for 36 years, Mr. Hamilton was a highly-regarded instructor in the English department. He also developed the school’s Television Production program, now known as TPS-TV. Dr. Doyle was once Mr. Hamilton’s student and remembered that he always had a smile on his face.
Many former students remember the production “All Stars” that Mr. Hamilton created. It was a musical pantomime, dance and variety show that was open to anyone who wanted to be a part of it. According to Doyle, “He found a place for every kid.” Mr. Hamilton also wrote the script, created the choreography and directed the show.
As a teacher, he was known to stand up for what was good and right. He never tolerated bullying of any sort. Former student Dave Caruso remembered him as “a champion for all students who wanted to learn, whether they took a collegiate or vocational path.” Caruso, a songwriter who published his first song with the help of Mr. Hamilton, called the teacher one of the most significant mentors of his early life.
Caruso shared a story of how Mr. Hamilton, through a class called Writing for Publication, helped him reach his goal of becoming a published songwriter by allowing him to write and submit the song “Class Song” as part of an assignment for the class. That song became Caruso’s Trenton High senior class song. The band Caruso recorded the song and it sold 5,000 copies. Hamilton and his television production students also directed and filmed the Caruso band’s first five music videos in the THS Production studio.
Former student Jackie Hull, now a video production specialist, remembers Mr. Hamilton as a teacher who would take students under his wing. “He pushed you but helped you to be better than you thought you could be,” Hull said.
Mr. Hamilton also assisted former students when they entered the job market. Hull received a few job offers after referrals from Mr. Hamilton, and even landed some freelance work with his assistance. When Hull became the Television Production teacher at Gibraltar Carlson, he even provided her with his classroom notes.
When he retired from teaching, Mr. Hamilton remained as the technical manager of the Trenton High auditorium. Dr. Doyle said Mr. Hamilton always wanted to take events to the next level and was always looking for ways to improve. In the summer, he could be found dismantling the lights and cleaning each one individually. For musicals, he built the stages and sets, creating just the right setting for the production.
Most recently, he was seen working on the production of “Grease” in fall 2016.
“Whenever Mr. Hamilton did something, he exceeded the expectation,” said Dr. Doyle. “He loved Trenton, he loved THS. He always wanted to put Trenton and Trenton kids in the best light.” He also produced the Trenton High School graduation every year.
Mr. Hamilton always made time for former students. According to Caruso, when talking, he would remember what you were doing and applauded it. “He touched kids’ lives, even when not teaching. Everyone wanted to be around his light.”
Mr. Hamilton was a graduate of Trenton High School. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Eastern Michigan University. In addition to his work at the Trenton Auditorium, he also worked as the technical and creative director, and producer for DHP Creative Event Planning. He was also a writer and producer of eight stage plays.
A man of many talents, he will be best remembered by the Trenton community for the many lives that he touched. He taught his students the things they needed to know to succeed not just in the classroom, but in life. He had a kind heart and a large personality and was passionate about everything he did. As Dr. Doyle stated, “There’s only one Dennis Hamilton.”
Mr. Hamilton is survived by his wife, Pearl, daughter Lindsay (K.C.) Begemen, son Robert (Sarah), grandchildren Bella and Cooper, sister Denise (Gary) Billington, and three brothers, Eugene (Pat), David (Debbie) and Donald (Nancy).
His funeral service was held on Saturday, March 11, 2017, at the Trenton Chapel of the Martenson Family