William & Mary Alumni Magazine Winter 06/07

Posted by on Apr 6, 2014 in Press |

Denenberg ’69 Cultivates the Right Kind of Hero Worship

You can keep your superman.”Nothing would be happening if it weren’t for real people doing things”says Denenberg, and making “things” happen. He travels around the country talking to teachers, maintains and impressive set of gardens in his Pennsylvania home and has written a successful book for children about the importance of having heroes.

Written with Lorraine Roscoe, 50 American Heros Every Kid Should Meet is full of historic figures who accomplished something great in real life- without the aid of radioactive spiders or magical powers. The book names a wide range of heros, from Bill Cosby to Albert Einstein, with Rosa Parks and Roberto Clemente in between. Denenburg’s heroes are not the comic-book characters and professional athletes we so hear about: he includes baseball’s Clemenate for his humanitarian work more so than for his achievements on the field.

When Denenberg goes on a speaking tour, though his audience changes from kids to their teachers. “There are so many uninteresting speakers. My biggest job in the first 5-10 minutes is to convince them I’m different,” he says. One way of doing that is with his secret weapon a dynamite Eleanor Roosevelt impression sure to wake up even the most inattentive and jaded educator. In the process, he shows teachers ways to incorporate real heros into their curriculum.

“If you are teaching an environment unit in curriculum, why not have ( environmentalist and Silent Spring author) Rachel Carson an a guide or John Muir?” he says. Denenberg asks teachers to use heroes to help students gain perspective on a topic, rather than simply memorizing fact. ” I firmly believe learning should be challenging, but it should be fun.” he states.

His work combines rhetorical skills with a strong grasp of American history, two things he studied while at William and Mary. Denenberg’s knack for public speaking comes in part from  two years  in the William and Mary Theatre, but his love for history predates in his years in Williamsburg. Denenburg knows his own hero is without a second’s hesitation: Thomas Jefferson. The opportunity to share an alma mater with the nations third president was too strong to resist. For years, Denenberg maintained a classroom of his own, but retired from teaching when his heros work took off. According to him, there wasn’t enough to do all of his various projects well, and he’s too much of a perfectionist to let something slip. He stays so busy, though, he can’t help but ask: “Am i really retired?”

In addition to his hero-related projects,Denenberg maintains an elaborate set of gardens at his lancaster Pa., home. The first time he mowed his acre of grass, he says, he didn’t  to mow it over and over. he turned it his “other great passion” of gardening and his horticultural work has since been featured on television and Newspapers and magazines.

Denenberg opens his home and his gardens, free free of charge, to charitable groups to hold fundraisers.He has hosted events for hurricane Katrina relief and the american cancer society, just to name a few. It’s  just another one of the ways Dennis Denenberg enriches lives of students, teachers and the community around him.

” Life has been very good to me,” Now it’s time to give back.”