Entrepreneurs are typically risk takers, and that is certainly the case for Dennis M. Crowley Jr. ’59.
“I had started a tree company at 19 to pay for college, dabbled in a consulting company I started in my thirties, and felt it wasn't too big a risk to do another start up at 52,” he recalls.
That was when he and his wife paid a few months ahead on their mortgage, applied for every credit card they could get, and opened Apollo Security International in their kitchen. “We had no business at startup,” he says. “But within three months we sold our first contract. It was almost three years before we could take a paycheck, but we were having fun and had a lot of confidence.”
Today, Apollo is an international security services firm providing uniformed security personnel, investigative services and consulting support to major businesses. Dennis is co-founder and Chairman.
Before his business and security career took off, however, Dennis cites the first important risk in his life as the decision to attend UMass in 1955. “That decision was the forerunner to everything else that has happened in my career,” he says. “I was a Boston kid, went to the Boston Public Schools, and was expected to go to a college in the Boston area. Instead, I chose UMass.”
UMass played an important role in shaping his life because he took advantage of all that the University had to offer, both academically and socially.
Within the classroom, Dennis developed friendships with professors like George Goodwin (Government), who advised him to take electives outside his home department—like journalism, extemporaneous speaking, formal writing, and public speaking. He describes Professor Goodwin as a friend and confidant for his four years at UMass. “We stayed in contact for several years thereafter”.
Those electives have proven so critical to his own career that he encourages current students to add similar breadth to their academic portfolios: “Don't take courses exclusively in your chosen degree area,” he says. “If you plan to seek a career in criminal justice, take some business courses, particularly budgeting, accounting, and planning. You will advance more quickly having skills needed but not shared by many.”
The campus and local community offered countless opportunities for Dennis to grow and challenge himself, even though his high school friends called Amherst a “cow college” in the “middle of nowhere.”
His extra-curricular experiences, for instance, contributed to his well-rounded education: “Working on the Collegian enhanced my writing and ROTC taught me the value of serving my country and leadership,” he says.
UMass also provided him with a superb social experience and ample opportunity for fun.
“Life on campus was very special,” he recalls. “It was something you couldn’t experience in a transient city environment.”
Describing co-ed dorms as “only a fantasy” in his day, Crowley recalls “panty raids” where, somehow, his dorm room was always the first searched. “My room was also among the first searched when someone stole all the toilet paper in Thatcher” he says. “But they found nothing.” (With the statute of limitations now up on punishments for those pranks, Crowley admits that it took significant coordination to move 50-75 rolls of toilet paper from Thatcher into a closet in Lewis!) He says: “There were a lot of pranks played by freshmen in those two dorms.”
He also recalls “borrowing” a canoe from the Cage to canoe on the Campus Pond, Spring Day, the excitement when the Student Union first opened, the football team that very seldom won but always tried, his military ball, and, importantly, the professors.
Thanks in part to conversations with Colonel Marchand and TSgt. Gerepka, for instance, UMass paved the way for Crowley’s post-graduation military career as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Air Force.
He graduated (with “just” enough credits) on June 7, 1959 and was commissioned in the Air Force the same day. He was married on June 20, and on the 21st, he and his wife set off for Lackland Air Force Base.
“We were totally on our own, 21 and 19 years old, in a 1938 Oldsmobile, travelling over two lane highways (the Interstate Highway System came a few years later) starting an adventure that really hasn’t ever ended,” he says.
Adventure is certainly the right word for his military career: he had two consecutive deployments to Southeast Asia, one where he served as a Special Agent and member of the Air Force OSI’s Special Ops Team. “In early 1965, we were deployed to Thailand in support of the opening of the secret military bases to launch sorties into North Vietnam,” he says. “A few months after returning to the U.S., I deployed for one year to DaNang, South Vietnam in a counter-intelligence/counter-espionage role.” There, out of uniform, he lived with the Vietnamese. He was awarded the Bronze Star during that assignment.
“The military gave me leadership skills and my UMass education allowed me to move within the military into some very interesting and exciting assignments,” he says. Both also gave him the discipline and drive necessary, after leaving the military, to pursue law school while balancing a family and career. Returning to Massachusetts, he served as the Chief of Intelligence in the Massachusetts Organized Crime Unit and later was Deputy Director of the New England Organized Crime Intelligence System.
“To this day, I appreciate the opportunity, education, friendships, and career that UMass gave me,” he says.
Moreover, he is thankful that he has been able to share his UMass experience with so many of his family members. His father graduated Class of ’29 from what was then “Mass Aggie,” and both of his children and his granddaughter have since graduated from UMass.
Dennis therefore is quite knowledgeable when he talks about a UMass education. “So much has changed not only in terminology, but also in the focus of the education students receive at UMass today,” he says. “But what hasn’t changed is the wonderful UMass experience.”
In recognition of that experience and all that UMass has provided to him and his family, Crowley has also announced a new scholarship in the Department of Political Science to support students interested in criminal justice careers. His hope is that the scholarship helps to support another “wonderful” experience for some of today’s students by making college that much more affordable – something that will hopefully enable the recipient to take a few extra risks of his or her own after they leave campus.