Dennis Denenberg has touched the lives of many students, both in the area and throughout the country. A career educator, “Dr. D” as he is known to friends and students , retired in August 2002 from elementary education department at Millersville University. His career in education also includes teaching at Manheim Central School District serving as an elementary school principal in that district and serving as an assistant superintendent at Manheim Township School District.
He now has a second career –discussing the important of integrating heroes into the school curriculum with educators. “When i started to talk about heroes in 1990 i had no idea it would turn into a second career. I may be retired but i am still teaching– the great thing is that i have no papers to grade,” Dennis says.
He witnessed first- hand the fact that educators struggled with history education at all grade levels. When he grew up there were pictures of heroes such as Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein in the classroom, by the late 80s they had been replaced by poster of cartoon characters such as the TV character ALF. This inspired him to write an article entitled “De-ALF” the Classroom”, which was published in Teachers Magazine in December 1989 ” There’s a real lack of heroes in our country today. The number one reason kids don’t have a heroes is that they don’t see them. My mission is to get real heroes into the classroom on a regular basis,” he explains.
He’s co-authored a book “50 American Hero Every Kid Should Meet” with Lorraine Roscoe. Heroes mentioned in the book include Walt Disney, Jimmy Carter, Yo-Yo Ma, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Jonas Salk, Benjamin Franklin, and Elie Wiesel. The book has sold more than 50,000 copies.
So far he’s been to 38 states with his presentation and has spoken to more than 75,000 people. Last year he presented 37 programs. He stresses that he speaks only to adults. ” It’s important to show educators, administrators and parents that real heroes can inspire kids, ” he states.
Dennis describes his program as something that’s both entertaining and educational. He carries a lot of props including a variety of hats, and he dresses in Colonial costume. ” My intention is to entertain and educate — the two should always be linked together. I always tell people that Vaudeville is not dead.” he says with a smile.
He starts his preparation by dedicating it to his sister — Diana Denenberg Durand, who passed away in October 2007 after an 18 year battle with cancer. He describes her as a real hero. He’s also been inspired by his parents — by their love and devotion to each other and their family.
In September 2002 he honored one of his own heroes — Alvin Hildebrand, his eighth grade history teacher at Manheim Central Junior High School, who he considers to be his mentor. ” He really made me fall in love with history. He’s a good storyteller and history really is a story. He has solid character and was really passionate about his subject,” Dennis said about Hildebrand. Hildebrand had a real passion for Thomas Jefferson, and that’s something that Dennis came to share. ” I admire Jefferson for his mind,” he says. In fact Dennis is a Phil Beta Kappa graduate of the collage of William and Mary, Where Jefferson was formally educated.
Dennis remains involved with his high school –he’s president of the Manheim Central Student Loan Fund Foundation and has served on it board for 37 years. the 50-year old organization makes loan =s to Manheim Central graduates to pursue secondary education.
Dennis has other passions in his life– his home and gardening. he purchased his Manheim Township home in 1996 and has made numerous changes to both it and its landscaping. The acre size property has been transformed into a lush landscape. Except for the wetland area, there are flowers, shrubs and trees everywhere.” I love plants, my goal was not to have any grass to mow,” he says.
When he purchased the home he was on sabbatical and had a ” planting party” to create perennial beds that are filled with daffodils, roses irises, lupines, columbines, and hibiscus( both the columbines and hardy hibiscus were started from seed). ” I have beautiful color from spring through fall, but since those perennials multiply i do thin them out now and then. I often give plants to friends since i can’t stand to just throw them away,” he says. and those plants share plants with him, too.
These perennial beds can be enjoyed from several locations; a sunroom that’s glassed in on three sides extends from the rear of the house and opens onto a deck that surrounds an above ground pool. Earlier this year a tiled outdoor kitchen with a sink and grill was installed on the deck to make entertaining easier. The decks fun atmosphere is enhanced by dozens of Mardi Gras beads hanging from a tree that shades it.
A trumpet vine twines along the fence on one side of the deck. The splash of water can be heard from the cascading waterfall that flows just below this fence into an ornamental fish pond rimmed with rock and edged with flowers. There’s also an ornamental fountain and a seating area along a walking path. He covered an existing shed into a greenhouse to store some of the more delicate plants over winter.
Dennis’s love of gardening stems from his childhood. When he was growing up in Manheim , his grandfather, an avid vegetable gardner, lived with the family. ” He always enjoyed working on his garden, and i would help him. When i work with the soil i really feel grounded ( no pun intended) he says. His family also contributed to his garden in another way. Denenberg has a bed of peony bushes along one side of the house. Those peonies were dug from his family home in Manheim. ” peonies were my dads favorite plant. When i sold my parents house in Manheim the agreement stated that i could come back the fall and remove the peonies,” he remarks. Like many gardeners, he states that his gardens always evolving. ” Creating a garden is a long term endeavor. I enjoy the work; it’s very therapeutic i enjoy the quiet of the garden. But life is always a juggling act. The perennial garden is at its best in June and early July — that’s when a number of speaking engagement take place,’ he says.
The sunroom to the rear and an addition with a vaulted ceiling and lots of windows that was completed last year on the front of the home fill the house with light year-round. However the lower level contains a special treat– the ” South Beach ” room. He enjoys visiting Miami’s South Beach with its Art Deco-style building and warm, sunny days. The mural created by York artist David Ashley that runs along the back wall and wraps around the side of the room is just the thing to provide visual warmth on cold winter days. To further enhance the illusion, the floor was painted a warm beige color to resemble sand.
Whether he’s working in or enjoying views of the garden, planning for home renovation or speaking to a group about heroes, Dennis admits that he enjoys what he does.