Joseph F. Berenato
Local pharmacist retires after more than four decades
After serving the residents of Hammonton for more than 42 years, pharmacist Tom Devenny has decided to retire.
“I feel like I’m ready. A switch kind of goes off. People always told me, ‘you’ll know when you’re ready.’ And it’s the truth; as long as the cards are set up, your ducks are all in a row, and you’re ready for retirement financially and mentally, and you can do it, and you’re ready, then do it. I feel like I am ready to retire at this point,” Devenny told The Gazette.
Devenny, a 1978 graduate of the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science (now known as the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia), said that his early years were spent touring the world.
“I’m what is known as an army brat. My father was a World War II and Korean War veteran. I grew up traveling quite a bit, living in Germany and living across the United States in different states. We traveled quite a bit,” he said.
Eventually, Devenny’s family settled in Cherry Hill, N.J.; he attended Camden Catholic High School, and began to decide what career path to take.
“I have a cousin named John Wayne Devenny; he was a pharmacist and had his own place in Wayne, Pa. The seed was planted there, and I started thinking about it, discussed it with my parents and worked in the drug store to get a feel for it. I ultimately decided to apply to pharmacy school in Philadelphia; it’s the oldest pharmacy school in the United States. I went there and became a pharmacist,” Devenny said.
After graduation, Devenny obtained his pharmacy licensure. A chance conversation with his uncle ultimately led him to the next step on his journey.
“He said that there was a job opening, if you’re interested now that you’re licensed, in a town called Hammonton. I’d never heard of Hammonton. I said, sure; I’ll interview for it. I found out that it was the ‘Blueberry Capital of the World,’ and I said that it sounds like a nice little town. I interviewed at Bellevue Drug with Nick Varga, and I got my job there,” Devenny said.
Devenny stayed with Bellevue Drug Co. for close to 24 years. He worked for another chain store in Hammonton for three years before moving to ShopRite, where he has been employed for more than 16 years.
“My career has been exclusively in Hammonton, from graduation until retirement, in a town that I had never even heard of when I moved to New Jersey. I’ve made many, many friends, and I’ve seen generations of families grow up before my very eyes, starting with Nick’s friends, who were older gentlemen and ladies. I met their kids; their kids grew up to have kids, and their kids grew up to have kids. I’ve pretty much known four generations of people,” Devenny said.
Devenny, now 65, said that two particular experiences during his time at Bellevue Drug Co. stand out in his memory. The first took place on September 19, 1984, when then-President Ronald Reagan visited Hammonton.
“He made a speech right on Bellevue in front of the bank, and I was there, out in the streets. It was one of the biggest thrills I had,” Devenny said.
Reagan’s visit, however, was not the only brush with the presidency Devenny had.
“One day, Joe Biden walked in to Bellevue Drug. I looked over to the other pharmacist—Frank—and said, ‘Frank, this guy looks really familiar.’ This was probably 23 years ago. Biden said, ‘I’m just picking something up, but I’m hopping on a plane and going to Iraq.’ I said, ‘Oh. OK.’ I got to meet him and shake his hand, and that was another dignitary that I met, which was very interesting. It was nice; I got to talk to Joe Biden for a bit,” he said.
Devenny said that there have been other celebrities of note during his time as a pharmacist in Hammonton, even though Reagan and Biden were “the two biggies.”
“I’ve met pro athletes—sometimes retired, sometimes not—that have actually walked in. Since I’m a fan of sports, I got to recognize a few of them in the NFL and in Major League Baseball. That was a lot of fun. I won’t mention names—for privacy; I don’t know if they even want to be known that they were in Hammonton—but I’ve become friends with a few, which is pretty neat. Being a fan of sports and getting to talk to them a little bit has been a thrill,” Devenny said.
One of the highlights of his career, Devenny said, occurred when he was 54 years old and decided to walk in an Army recruiter’s office in Cherry Hill.
“I thought that I’d like to find out whether I can join the Army Reserves in the medical corps. I said that I knew I was too old, but he said I wasn’t. I was quite surprised. The reason I took a chance doing that is because I read in Time where a surgeon in his 60s got a recommendation from the president to go abroad as a surgeon, because who’s going to turn down a surgeon? I figured that they could use pharmacists out in the field,” Devenny said.
Devenny spent the next six months undergoing testing and obtaining the necessary letters from assemblymen and so forth.
“I was going to be commissioned as a captain in the U.S. Army Reserves and was scheduled to work at Fort Dix. I was ready to go to Texas for training and, at the last minute, I did get a letter, unfortunately, which said there was no AOC, which is area of concentration. I think there were other reasons; I did ask, but with health issues and age they ultimately turned me down,” he said.
Devenny said that he had every intention of entering the service “with no reservations.”
“I wanted to serve my country, but it didn’t work out, so I guess that was God’s way of telling me that it wasn’t meant to be. I didn’t get in, but I consider it a highlight; I’m very proud of doing that. Being an army brat, my dad served for about 24 years in the military, so I tried to follow suit ... Coming from a military family, it was something I really wanted to do, but it didn’t work out,” he said.
Perhaps the biggest highlight, however, involves the friendships Devenny has forged with the people of Hammonton.
“It’s become a very special town for me. I’ve made a lot of friends. I’ve taken calls from home on holidays to go into work, open the store, help people out that were in an emergency and needed medication. I never had a problem with that ... I’ve always felt that, in my profession, you have to go that extra mile, and I always did. It helps people—pharmacy is a great profession—and, hopefully, the people appreciated me through my career,” Devenny said.
That dedication to his profession and to his customers is undoubtedly what led Devenny to be nominated twice for the Village Super Market Awards.
“Every year they pick from quite a number of stores for performance and for feedback from customers, and I’ve been nominated twice. I can’t say that I won twice—there was some stiff competition—but I’ve been nominated twice. Just recently, last year, I was in the top three, so that was an honor for me. I was very proud of that,” he said.
Even though January 16 is Devenny’s official last day of work—he retires as the pharmacist in Charge (PIC)/manager pharmacist—he has not ruled out the possibility of continuing in some capacity at some point.
“I’m going to keep my pharmacy license—I’m also licensed in immunizations; I’ve been doing immunizations for about eight years now. Especially with COVID-19 and God knows what else, I feel like I want to be accessible to possibly work for someone in the health field maybe even part-time, a day a week, who knows? A day every two weeks, just to keep my feet wet,” Devenny said.
For his immediate future, Devenny said that he plans to spend more time with his wife, Angela, who is also retired.
“We were hoping to travel a little bit, but, with COVID-19, as with many people, it’s thrown a wrench in the gears. We just have to adjust to life the way it is and hope it gets better,” Devenny said.
Devenny and his wife have two children, Thomas III, 30, and Carly, 24. The latter, Devenny said, is a social worker and earned a master’s degree from Monmouth University. The former is also a pharmacist, attended the same university as his father, and found a like-minded individual at college with whom to settle down.
“Tommy married a pharmacist; he met her in school while they were both in college, and her father is a pharmacist and owns a pharmacy in Scranton, Pa. There’s a lot of pharmacists all of a sudden in this family. Runs in our blood, I guess,” Devenny said.
That makes perfect sense to Devenny.
“Pharmacy has been good to me. People have asked me through my career why I picked pharmacy; do I like it? It can be tough; there’s a lot of work, and in pharmacy you must stay focused, as in any health profession. You must stay focused in your work. But yes, I enjoyed it. I’m glad I took this career path. I enjoyed it. I met a lot of people; I enjoy people. It’s a great profession. I’m glad I did it,” he said.