Doin’ Dunmore: Remembering a Time When Jazz was King on Christmas

By Steve Svetovich

There was a time pre-COVID when large groups of carolers would roam the streets of Green Ridge singing Christmas carols with a Dunmore native leading the way.

That’s when Jazz was King.

It was late 1972 Dunmore graduate Jim “Jazz” Dempsey who led the Christmas carolers on a jaunt strolling up and down North Washington Avenue and down adjacent streets not far from the childhood home of President-elect Joe Biden. 

Dempsey, known as “Jazz” to his many friends, was always the life of the party and his spirit grew brighter during the Christmas season. 

Dempsey, a legal studies graduate of Lackawanna Junior College, died at 55 in 2010. He left his wife Mary Walsh Dempsey, a local attorney, and his son and two daughters. 

He used to stage a night of caroling two days before Christmas in his Green Ridge neighborhood just a block down the street from Dunmore. 

The holiday season event was always held about 6:30 p.m. two days before Christmas. The large group of Christmas carolers would meet at the Church of Good Shepherd, North Washington Avenue and Electric Streets, close to where Green Ridge and Dunmore intersect. 

Hot chocolate, donuts, apple cider and Christmas cookies were served in the auditorium of the church. 

Dempsey, always a kindred spirit, always credited his wife Mary and mother-in-law Sally Walsh for coming up with the idea in the early 1990s before finalizing what was to become an annual spiritive event. 

Dempsey, who resided with his family on North Washington Avenue, Green Ridge section of Scranton, covered Dunmore Bucks football on Internet radio and was a swimming instructor for preschool kids at the Greater Scranton YMCA, Dunmore. 

He served the local youth as a volunteer for the Green Ridge Little League and Green Ridge Youth Biddy Basketball Association at Saint Paul’s Elementary School. 

He was president of the Green Ridge Little League for several years.

Following the initial success of the Green Ridge carolers, Jazz made sure it became an annual event. 

The festive group, which always included plenty of children, would sing the traditional Christmas carols while strolling up and down North Washington Avenue and adjacent streets. 

“We always wanted to make this feel like a traditional Christmas,” he said at the time.

Pat McMullen, the former owner and operator of the old McMullen’s Bar and Restaurant, East Market Street, Green Ridge, donated urns for the first event 20 years ago in 2000.

The caroling started and stopped at the Church of Good Shepherd across from Pretzel Park in Green Ridge.

“My wife and mother-in-law thought about this for years and then we put it into motion,” Dempsey informed The Dunmorean about 15 years ago. “It sure worked and we got the whole neighborhood into the Christmas spirit. People looked forward to it every year.”

The group would obtain flash lights and song sheets with Christmas music. The carolers would always festively decorate Pretzel Park.

The carolers, led by Jazz, would sing as well as possible. The songs included the traditional Jingle Bells, Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. 

“Nothing fancy and no surprises,” Dempsey would say with his classic grin. “We don’t know what kind of singers we have.”

Jazz said December 23 was always the date “because that’s when people are in the Christmas spirit.”

And the annual event went on for a decade until his untimely and sudden passing.

And this Christmas during an almost yearlong pandemic, Jim “Jazz” Dempsey will be looking down from the skies above leading a Chistmas sing-a-long in hopes of bringing those here on Earth closer again like in the days when Jazz was King. 

Merry Christmas, everyone. Stay safe. 

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