CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When the Children's Home Society named him CEO, he was only 35, young for such an important title. But upbringing gave him an edge.
Dennis Sutton grew up in the old Triangle District, a diverse and colorful neighborhood where people looked out for each other and family was everything. His mother was Irene Fazio, sister of the restaurateur.
Shaped by Catholic schooling, the church, caring neighbors and that strong family ethic, Sutton saw a way to return those blessings through social work.
Inspired by the mantra that every child needs a home, he spent 27 years shoring up home society services. Numerous awards salute his successes -- expanded emergency shelters, no-fee adoptions and repeated national accreditation, for starters.
His retirement party coincides with the society's Founder's Day Celebration at 6:30 p.m. May 10 at St. George Orthodox Cathedral.
"We lived on Summers Street. It was part of the Triangle District, so it was a difficult neighborhood, but it was diverse and we did OK.
"My dad was an appliance service technician and later managed Hoylman-Huffman, a local appliance store. My mother was a Fazio, Joe's sister. She is the best cook in the Fazio family. That could cause some controversy, but it's true.
"Our home was owned by my grandfather, Dominic Fazio. My mother's and Dominic's homeplace was the original location of Fazio's on Bullitt Street. Uncle Joe is my godfather.
"We lived right off the corner of Summers and Christopher streets, between Frye's Alley where all the prostitutes were and what was Dryden Street. You can go across country and people will ask if Frye's Alley is still around.
"Eventually, urban renewal took all that. I played on the rail tracks where Capitol Market is now. The Orlando Hotel was across the street. It was a monthly rental place by then.
"The hotel had little businesses in it, a fish market, Arrow Rug. Leonoro's Spaghetti House was over on Broad Street, and a place called Boiarsky's Grocery. There was liquor after hours and you knew where to go for that.
"In 1957, all of downtown flooded. The water in front of our house was about a foot and a half deep and we played in it.
"My grandfather Fazio had a barber shop and carry-out and beer place, all in one building. He loved Charleston. He loved America. He never went to a doctor.
"He walked all over town. I would pass him as I walked to school. He always wore a suit and held up his trousers with suspenders. His white shirt was the most starched shirt I've ever seen.
"When I was growing up, folks took care of each other. If I was causing trouble, everyone knew about it, the prostitutes, the Polish, Italian and black communities. If I broke a window three blocks from home, my mother would know before I got home.
"I went to Sacred Heart Grade School, a very good thing for me. At a Catholic school, you could be disciplined by your parents or anybody's parents. That was perfectly acceptable. We've lost some of that now.
"I didn't have any idea what I wanted to be. I graduated from Charleston Catholic in 1968. No one in my family had gone to college. They believed in education and encouraged me.
"I went to Concord College, another good choice. My high school principal worked it out so I got enough financial aid to make it.
"I majored in psychology, then sociology, then philosophy. My last year, they started a degree in social work. I couldn't get the degree because it was the initial year, but I took social work courses.
"I did an internship with the Mercer County court and was assigned a few children, substituting for their junior probation officer. Those kids were not getting a good deal, and it didn't make any sense to me. They were in serious trouble, at risk of being sent to a correctional facility. They had difficulty with the school system, and I was able to work it out.