Lancaster New Era
By Mary Beth Schweigert
It’s time for real heroes.
DENNIS DENENBERG AND LORI ROSCOE wrote those powerful words long before the tragedy of Sept. 11.
And they ring even truer today.
“Events have proven it’s past the time. We need to really focus on heroes,”says Denenberg, a Millersville University professor
“We’ve seen how they help us survive through difficult times.”
And like the times, our heroes have changed. More kids are looking up to firefighters and police officers instead of sports stars and actors.
But who were the first American heroes? And what lessons can they teach us today?
The desire to learn more about real heroes is coming from America’s heart now.
We’re looking for heroes because we need them,” says Roscoe, volunteer coordinator at Schreiber Pediatric Rehab Center.
Denenberg and Roscoe’s long friendship started with a gift — from a horse.
In the late 1970s, both worked for Manheim Central School District. Denenberg was directing the high school play. Roscoe was publicizing the show.
“Dennis’ shows were always unbelievable,” remembers Roscoe. “He pulled out all the. stops. He was doing ‘Oklahoma’ with a live horse.”
When a newspaper photographer came to the school to take pictures, Denenberg’s horse left a “present” in the hall. Roscoe had to clean it up.
In that smelly second, a friendship was sealed.
The pair kept in touch through an annual exchange of holiday cards.
Eventually Denenberg joined Millersville’s faculty. As a supervisor of student teachers, he noticed an alarming trend. When he was growing up, posters of presidents hung on school walls. Now the classroom “heroes” were cartoon characters like Mickey Mouse and ALF, a cuddly alien who starred in a popular TV show.
In 1989, Denenberg wrote an article called “De-ALFing the Classroom.”
“If we want kids to have heroes, they need to start seeing heroes,” he says. “The ALFs need to come down from the classroom. Where are the real heroes?”
Denenberg encouraged his student teachers to use real American heroes in their lesson plans. But he had no resources.
So he decided to make one
Denenberg asked his friend Roscoe to help. “Hooray for Heroes!”, published in 1994, gave teachers and parents 125 fun activities to teach children about heroes.
Soon after, Denenberg and Roscoe began writing “50 American Heroes,” a collection of short, interesting stories on famous Americans. They wanted to hook kids’ interest, not put them to sleep.
“History is a story,” Roscoe says. “We’ve stopped telling it as a story.”
Here’s part of the book’s lively entry on Susan B. Anthony “On November 5, 1872, Susan 13. Anthony broke the law … What horrible crime had (she) committed? She and 15 of her friends had voted.”..
The authors say a “hero” is “someone who makes a positive contribution to the world.” They highlight men and women of different races, time periods and fields of excellence.
“We didn’t want children to think that to be a hero, you had to be dead ” Roscoe says. “It’s not a definitive list of every American hero every kid should meet, but it’s a start.”
The authors asked others for ideas. A local dentist named Will Rogers as his hero, and a student of Denenberg’s lobbied for Mary McLeod Bethune.
“These people are real heroes to real people we know,” Roscoe says. “They all convey values.”
The book provides parents a perfect opportunity to talk to their children about role models, Roscoe says. Find out who your child admires and why.
Today, the duo speaks locally and nationally to parents, children and teachers about heroes. They’ve received thank-you notes from Rosa Parks, Cal Ripken and Jimmy Carter, who were all included in the book
What’s next for these two friends? A sequel may be in the works. And Denenberg will retire this summer to continue his nationwide speaking schedule.
And as for their friendship, it’s better than ever.
“Some people who collaborate end up mutual enemies,” Roscoe says.”We have a mutual respect.”
Denenberg adds: “Our heart and soul is in this book.”