HELENA — There weren’t many people like Dennis McSweeney, a volunteer in not just his community but, it seemed like, every community across Montana.
"He probably knew everybody in every county in Montana," said Deb Friesz, McSweeney's sister. "He had a big heart and he lived life to the fullest. He did. He enjoyed it."
McSweeney died unexpectedly sometime between April 10 and 11 at the age of 63. MTN Sports reached out to his family and friends to get their thoughts on him and his contributions.
Jim O’Day, a former athletic director for the University of Montana, met McSweeney in the mid-1970s. O’Day is from Cut Bank and McSweeney from Fort Benton. O'Day said no matter what, McSweeney’s personality was infectious.
“The thing about Dennis is he always had a big ol' bright smile. And you know, he would always kind of give you a little jab on something,” said O'Day.
Donating his time anywhere he could as a high school referee, a member of the Algeria Shrine, or simply being a friend, McSweeney is someone that cannot be replaced.
Guy Almquist, the head boys basketball coach for the Helena Capital Bruins, met McSweeney while he was refereeing sub-varsity basketball games, and noted his commitment to the community was unmatched and while no one could ever take the place of McSweeney, he hopes his memory pushes others to dedicate their time as well.
“I hope if when we think about Dennis and his life and things that he did, I hope we can take that lesson and if you care about kids, go out there make a difference, volunteer your time and let him be an example of what we could all do," Almquist said.
McSweeney was a basketball referee and a baseball umpire in the Helena area and also was a key contributor to recruiting players for the Montana East-West Shrine Game as a member of the Algeria Shrine in Helena.
McSweeney's sons, Connor and Sean, said their father was a man of great character with an even bigger heart
"He had a big heart and he can’t sit at home. He had to be out there, had to see people, had to meet people. He just couldn't sit there and watch. Had to root for his hometown. Just had to be the life of the party pretty much," said Sean. "And he was dang good at it."
"Dennis had a huge heart. ... If he knew you for five seconds, he loved you for life. He was very compassionate and caring. Yeah, I think that you could easily say that you didn't need to know him for more than five minutes to know that he cared about you and you had a friend for life," said Connor.
Alongside his contributions to youth sports, McSweeney and Friesz ran a fundraiser for the Shriner's Children's Hospital at the Pour House Bar in Fort Benton where they've raised tens of thousands of dollars for the hospital. Friesz told MTN this year they will hold the event and honor her brother on June 5.