Church, dogs and James Brown – these are the things that touch Dennis’ heart, lifting him up when times are hard. In his 78 years, he has endured and overcome much: cancer, the death of his wife, and the deaths of several children, including a son who collapsed in Dennis’ front yard from an asthma attack. Dennis had a memorial cross made to mark the spot.
“I have had a lot of tragedy,” he said. “I can feel it too. It gets a little lonely in this house. I have my moments and shed a few tears about that.”
But, he said, the house is where his wife and son died and he wants to keep his memories there. “It’s important to stay here. I don’t know what I would do if I had to leave.”
The Clinton County Elderly Services Program (ESP) provides homemaking services and an emergency response device for Dennis. He has received pest control for fleas brought by his dear dog companions, Genesis and Miracle. The program is also installing a handrail at his front steps. Gout in his legs often makes walking difficult.
Dennis learned about ESP when the program provided a home-care nurse and adult day services for his wife before she died two years ago. “They treated her real well,” Dennis said.
Born and raised in Wilmington, Dennis worked 20 years as a bit straightener for the Irwin Industrial Tool Company. Then, in a complete switch, he worked five years as a corrections officer at Lebanon Correctional Institution. In a word, he said, that job was “challenging.” “The things I seen in there…,” he said, shaking his head.
Except for a three-year stint in the Army in the early 1970s, Dennis has spent his life in Wilmington. He enjoyed fame as a James Brown impersonator, entertaining over the years at parties and the VFW Hall. A photo of Brown sits on Dennis’ coffee table near a foot-high doll of the King of Soul.
And then there is his James Brown look-alike wig. “This ain’t my hair; I’m fine with saying that,” Dennis said. “I wear this all the time except when I go to bed. I’m the James Brown of Wilmington.”
He is no less known for generosity, serving in earlier days as a church caretaker and recently buying groceries for a couple when he saw them at the store putting items back because they couldn’t pay. Dennis’ beloved community at Cornerstone Baptist Church means everything to him. “When my son died, I was in church the next day,” he said. “I go every Sunday. Never miss. They love me. That’s where I get my peace.”