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Sapere Aude Bequest Society

Five generations of Dentons at Wesley

Orlan, Simon, John and Alba Denton

John Denton (OW1962), who founded the firm Denton Corker Marshall, is one of the many distinguished architects the College has produced who have contributed to the profession both nationally and internationally.

Prof Brian Lewis (OW1916) at the University of Melbourne was the first Chair of Architecture in 1947; others have included Arthur Peck (OW1873), A. Best Overend (OW1924), David McGlashan (OW1946), Daryl Jackson (OW1953), Michael Peck (OW1956), Robert Peck AM (OW1957), John Castles (OW1958), Dr Norman Day (OW1964), Nicholas Day (OW1967) and Peter Sandow (OW1966) to name a few.

This year, the Denton family celebrate an extraordinary 120 years (1901 to 2021) and five generations at Wesley. To acknowledge this great tradition, John has joined our Sapere Aude Bequest Society and is also supporting our Clunes capital campaign. The Wesley Foundation is honoured to have John’s support. Here he reflects on his family’s long association with Wesley:

When I reflect on my time at Wesley, I remember good school mates who  made school days fun. I remember teachers who influenced me. In Junior School I was introduced to art by William Delafield Cook. My interest in art still lives in my long-term chairing of the Board of the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art. Also, in later years, Ken Merry influenced me to look at architecture (or engineering) as a career, which became my life. The quality of teaching staff is at the core of a great school. Wesley had, and still has to this  day, inspiring and wonderful teachers.

I didn’t recall much about my family’s history at the College; however, I recently came across a letter in my aunt’s documents when she died about a year ago. The letter was to my late grandfather Frank Bengrey Denton (OW1929) from Headmaster Harold Stewart thanking him for agreeing to serve as Secretary of the OWCA and acknowledging the debt Wesley owed him for taking on this task. This same letter then reminded me of the long relationship my family has had with Wesley: five generations over 120 years. My grandchildren Alba (Year 10) and  Orlan (Year 9) are current students at the St Kilda Road Campus.

My grandfather, Frank Bengrey Denton, entered Wesley in 1901. After leaving school he went to work in banking, first at the Royal Bank and then as a bank manager at the ES+A Bank, including some years based in Wangaratta. I always remember him telling me of his weekly trips with armed guards to collect the gold from the El Dorado mine. He was always involved in the school, serving as Honorary Secretary of the OWCA from 1941 until 1960, including 18 years as  the OWCA representative on the School Council. He was also very active in the Wesley Masonic Lodge.

My father, Frank Rutherford Bengrey Denton (OW1929), entered Wesley in 1928 but left in December 1929 at the time of the Great Depression, which began with the Wall Street crash that year, and had  a huge impact. My grandfather took the opportunity to get my father a job at the ES+A Bank which he thought would be safe in the depression. Frank continued  to study part-time and became an accountant. During World War II my father joined the Airforce and became a navigator on bombers flying in New Guinea. After the war, through the Methodist Church, he took a job as Business Manager to the Methodist Mission to the Islands, based in Fiji, where I was born in 1945. I entered Wesley in 1957. I was in the Junior School for Years 7 and 8, and then the Twenty XX with ‘Bod’ Kennedy. I matriculated in 1962 and studied architecture at the University of Melbourne, including a gap year in 1966 where I hitchhiked around Europe, worked in London then took three months driving from London to Madras (Chennai) via Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan,  and Pakistan. A real adventure for a 21-year-old.

After architecture I also did a post-graduate diploma in Town and Regional Planning and started out in the world of architecture. I have had a practice, Denton Corker Marshall, now for more than 45 years and am still working. (See dentoncorkermarshall.com, if you are interested.) In recent times, I have been honoured with an Honorary Doctor of Laws from Monash University and an Honorary Doctor of Architecture from the University of Melbourne for services to Architecture.

Continuing the Wesley tradition, my son Simon Denton (OW1988) started at Wesley in 1984 and after VCE went on to study at the University of Melbourne. However, having been involved in the hospitality industry from an early age,  he decided to pursue hospitality and opened Verge, his first restaurant, in 2000. This was followed by Izakaya Den and more recently Hihou and the Denton Wine Bar, with the pandemic causing the closure of all but Izakaya Den. Simon now devotes more of his time to the Denton Vineyard, which we established in 1996 (dentonwine.com). The Denton generational history has made me also reflect on the importance of the cultural diversity of the school’s students – Simon being part of the ‘undefeated’ First XI soccer team that consisted of highly skilful kids from backgrounds including Greek, Indian, Turkish and Anglo. Their bond on and off the pitch was an essential part of their success and learning. My grandchildren Alba and Orlan now enjoy and appreciate the benefits of a Wesley education, carrying on the Denton family association.

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