The gazebo, garden house, and summer house were all built by Dean with a little help from friends and family.
A native of California, Dean Fenley was born in Oakland and raised in San Jose and in the hills above Milpitas near Calaveras Reservoir. His father was a rancher who raised fruits and vegetables and sometimes turkeys in the Santa Clara Valley and who instilled in Dean a love of growing things, of tools, and of building homes and other buildings. As a boy he spent more time riding his horse exploring the hills near their home than he did helping with his father’s agricultural efforts, but as he grew older he spent more time in the fields of tomatoes and other produce. His first paying job as a teenager was cutting “cots” (apricots) for drying.
After serving in the Army, he continued his education at San Jose State College and ultimately at Indiana University for graduate studies. Before finishing his doctorate, he taught English at a high school in California and on Guam. After receiving his doctorate, his professional life focused on medical education and public health at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri; at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in Springfield, Illinois; and at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia where he managed a number of grant programs in state departments of health and education that provided health education in schools.
In retirement Dean and his wife, Mary Ann, who also spent her childhood on a farm in Illinois, were drawn back to a life immersed in nature when they moved to five acres of land in Walton County. On this land they grew a large vegetable garden, planted many trees and shrubs to augment what was there, and grew hundreds of perennial and annual flowers and grasses. Dean studied beekeeping and kept bees for nine years. He also loved to build structures on the property that their family, which included the families of their five children, could use to enjoy the gardens and nature every day.
Dean and Mary Ann joined the Watkinsville Garden Club in 2015, and Dean was treasurer for three years. Through the garden club he found one of the greatest joys of his later years as a volunteer in the Junior Garden Club at Rocky Branch Elementary School. He spent many happy hours with other garden club members helping Shawna McGrath, the teacher who started the Junior Garden Club and a member of the WGC, and the third graders grow fruits, vegetables, and flowers, including a butterfly garden that is central to the Monarch Project. Dean also volunteered with the Cooking Club at the school and was a mentor for several years.