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Dana Denker Semmes, 73, died from a fall on March 9th, 2023, at home in Potomac, MD.
Dana was born in New Haven, CT on June 28, 1949 to Jane Gurley Denker and Dr. David Denker who met while working for The New York Times in Manhattan. She grew up on a farm in New Brunswick, New Jersey where she took in and cared for many animals. She was a tomboy to her father’s dismay.
She was a spirited storyteller, actress, educator, and gardener. All that she pursued in her life she did with deep passion and devotion.
As a young girl, Dana had a gift for the dramatic arts and a spirit of adventure. She took acting classes and attended plays at the McCarter Theater in Princeton, New Jersey, then run by Arthur Lithgow, a pioneer of regional theater. She performed on-stage – in high school at Concord Academy, as a theater student at Antioch College and in avante-garde productions in New York City where she lived in her twenties. At 19 years of age, her extended journey by Land Rover across Asia from London through Afghanistan and India exemplified her intrepid spirit. After her college graduation, Dana joined a dozen other Antioch drama students who floated down the Mississippi River on a 17-foot hand-made raft, performing theater for free in towns along the way. While living in Manhattan in the late 1960s, she spent a night in jail for slipping flowers into rifles in protest of the Vietnam war.
She was active in a women's theater group in the Washington, DC area, where she met and married Guy Semmes, her brother Michael Denker’s business partner. The couple raised two children, Charlotte and Benedict, during their 43-year marriage. Dana taught drama and creative movement to children throughout the D.C. area, brought an acting class to the Montgomery County Juvenile Detention Center at Shady Grove, and provided spiritual direction for inmates at the county jail.
She was fiercely loyal to her family and went to all ends to protect and nurture their lives. She valued experiential education, teaching for several years at Green Acres school in Bethesda, a progressive school that her children also attended. She introduced them to the expressive arts, gardening, and both national and international travel. Highlights included summers in Vermont performing with the Bread & Puppet Theater, breaking down in a VW camper in the snow at the Zuni reservation in Western New Mexico, and hiking across the salt mines in the Sacred Valley in Urubamba, Peru.
Dana was an energetic patron of the arts, writing theater critiques for the Potomac Almanac and serving as an usher at theaters throughout the DC area. She supported Habitat for Humanity of Montgomery County through her fundraising efforts.
Growing up with Jewish and Protestant heritage, but no formal religion as a child, she held a deep desire to know God. At mid-life, Dana discovered centering prayer – an ancient form of silent contemplation revived in the 1970s by Catholic monks. Dana and her husband embraced the practice, converting to Catholicism and organizing retreats and workshops around the country. She was devoted to her church community, first as a parishioner at St Francis Episcopal Church, Potomac, MD and then St. Raphael's Catholic Church, in Rockville, MD.
Dana was her own person. She did not hold back her feelings and opinions and was a witty and a sharp critic of popular culture. She befriended and counseled others who followed a non-traditional path.
She was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2019 which reduced her outward ability for creative expression and deepened her faith.
She is survived by her husband Guy Hopkins Semmes of Potomac; her daughter, Charlotte Semmes, of Hudson, NY; her son, Benedict Semmes, of Houston, TX; her brother, Joel Denker, of Washington, DC; her sister, Cornelia Emlen, of Calais, VT; and two grandchildren, Penelope and Francis.
Visitation will begin at 10am on Friday, March 17, 2023 at St. Raphael's Catholic Church, 1513 Dunster Rd, Rockville, MD, where the Funeral will begin at 11am. A reception will follow in the Church Library.
Service will be live streamed via: https://www.youtube.com/live/4F8dDOxq4Uo?feature=share
In lieu of flowers, contributions in Dana's memory can be made to the International Rescue Committee (details below).
International Rescue Committee
122 East 42nd Street, NY 10168-1289