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Joseph Denk

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Joseph R. Denk, a longtime resident of Las Cruces and contributor to its cultural life, died Saturday, June 28, 2014, at his home at Golden Mesa Independent Senior Living Community. He was born July 14, 1928, in Chicago to Joseph L. and Barbara E. Denk. After graduating from the University of Illinois in chemical engineering, for some years he worked at laboratories in New Jersey, Delaware, and Virginia. After the death of his first wife, he entered a Benedictine monastery in North Carolina, where he met a very important influence, Frater Lawrence, who awakened his love of literature, especially Dante. Isolated from church politics, he left the monastery and returned to Chicago to marry Jacqueline Klein, an old high school friend, in 1969; they had two sons, Jeremy in 1970 and Joshua in 1972. He embarked on a new career, at the intersection of computing and academia. After stints in North Carolina and New Jersey, in 1980, Denk took a position as director of computing at New Mexico State University. On top of his day job, over the next decades he became active in the theatre community of Las Cruces, participating in roughly 50 productions. He claimed he was particularly good at curmudgeons and villains (for example Lazar Wolf in "Fiddler on the Roof"), but he also starred as Willy Loman in "Death of a Salesman" with the Las Cruces Community Theatre, and the physicist Richard Feynman in "QED" at the Black Box Theatre - roles he researched meticulously. During this period, always a music lover, he also ran the Las Cruces Symphony box office, and he fondly remembered dressing up as the pope during the celebration of the tenure of its former maestra Marianna Gabbi. He encouraged the musical and other interests of his sons, and helped his wife to convalesce from several serious medical issues. After retiring from the Computer Center in 1994, he was asked to teach a course in the Honors Department. He returned to earlier fascinations, and taught the Bible as Literature for well over a decade. By way of preparation, in his seventies he brought back the ancient Greek he had learned in the monastery, and learned Coptic. He was very devoted to his students, and delved intensely into new projects, new areas of study, to the end of his life. At the Golden Mesa, he taught courses in the New Testament and "Dante's Inferno." He was a competitive miniature golf player, an avid early morning jogger, a connoisseur of green chile, one of's favorite customers, and a prolific and witty raconteur. He despised the traffic lights of Las Cruces, and knew the city's back routes better than anyone. Joe is predeceased by his parents and sister, Rose Marie, and his first wife of three years, Mary Elise Rafferty. He is survived by his wife of 45 years, Jacqueline, of Las Cruces, sons Jeremy Denk of New York City, and Joshua Denk and wife, Lyndsy, of Westbrook, Maine; grandchildren Maya and Althea Denkmire of Portland, Maine; brother Lawrence Denk and wife, Joy, of Katy, Texas; and sister Marilyn Denk Drane and husband, Steven, of Houston, Texas. He is also survived by stepchildren Christine Wilbur and husband, John, of San Diego, California; Cathleen Kalisiak and husband, Roger, of Hoffman Estates, Illinois; and James Klein and wife, Brenda, of White Bluff, Tennessee; step-grandchildren John Wilbur, Matthew Kalisiak, Kelly Kalisiak Nicolussi, and Jonah Klein; and great-grandchildren Ethan Nicolussi and Shawn Kalisiak. A memorial service will be held on Friday, July 4, at 11 a.m. at the Las Cruces Community Theatre, 313 N Downtown Mall. In lieu of flowers, gifts may be made in memory of Dr. Joseph Denk to the NMSU Foundation, P.O. Box 3590, Las Cruces, NM 88003. Arrangements are entrusted to La Paz-Graham Funeral Home, 555 W Amador Ave., Las Cruces.
Published in Las Cruces Sun-News on July 2, 2014
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