Tuesday, April 23rd, 2024
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Why I Give: Dr. Dennis Denenberg

From Breast Health to Beautiful Gardens

There are two topics that almost always surface when speaking with Dr. Dennis Denenberg: his passion for breast health and his gardens. Both topics stem from his love of heroes. Denenberg, who had a long career in education, including as a professor at Millersville, spent almost 20 years as a nationally known speaker, talking about real-life heroes and their importance to kids and adults.

Two of his real-life heroes include his sister, Diana Denenberg Durand, who graciously fought a battle with breast cancer for 18 years, and former U.S. President Thomas Jefferson.

Diana was the impetus for Dennis to start the Breast Cancer Awareness Program at Millersville University through an endowment. The program includes “Breast-A-Ville,” an annual event to educate students of the importance of breast health and breast cancer awareness and prevention. It also includes the Diana Denenberg Durand Spirit Garden and Statue, located at the University’s Stayer Hall, which was dedicated in 2007 in honor of Diana. And “Diana’s Dreamers: Determined to Defeat Breast Cancer” is an endowment set up through the Millersville University Foundation to raise awareness among young women and men about breast cancer and breast health.

In 2016, Denenberg received the “Honorary Alumni Award” from the University’s Alumni Association. In honoring him, they said, “Dr. Denenberg has earned the title of a hero in influencing hundreds or maybe thousands of Millersville education students over his 15-year tenure (1987-2002) as a professor in the School of Education. Many of these students have benefited from the groundbreaking ‘Hooray for Heroes’ program he initiated while at Millersville.”

“Everyone needs a hero, someone to look up to. There are heroes all around us, in our communities and throughout history,” says Denenberg.

One of his Millersville students, Lynette Leaman Brenneman ’97, went on to become a teacher and recently spoke about Denenberg’s impact on her.

“Dr. Denenberg taught us how he wanted us to teach our own students,” says Brenneman. “I still remember one day he came to class wearing a historical hat. More than almost any other professor, Dr. Denenberg influenced me in how I taught day to day during the 12 years I taught in my third-grade classroom. I focused on the heroes of Lancaster when I taught my Lancaster County unit in third grade.”

The Hilda and David Denenberg Student Lounge in Millersville University’s Stayer Education Building was established by Denenberg to honor his mom and dad, “who kept their vow never to say an unkind word to one another in front of their children.” The lounge features memorabilia from the Denenberg family history.

Dennis Denenberg is now at the stage in his life where he is deciding who he wants his belongings to go to. One of the reasons Thomas Jefferson was a hero to him is because he loved to garden. Denenberg has an acre of gardens that he lovingly devotes to flowers and special features.

Denenberg has put in his will that the acre of gardens and his house will be given to the Millersville University Foundation. The Foundation is a separate entity from the University, and its mission is to manage and invest endowed gifts for the University.

Many visitors consider the all-pink garden dedicated to breast cancer survivors to be their favorite spot. The sign, designed by Matt Patek, displays a quote from the song entitled “Fighter” by Millersville alumna Liz Fulmer. “You won’t ever see her giving up ’cause she is a fighter” was written to honor Diana.

Of course, the Gardens of Oz showcase the owner’s love of “The Wizard of Oz.” There’s the yellow brick road leading to Emerald City and Toto’s dressing room – you can peer in through the roof to see what the movie star has in his personal canine collection.

There are many other features: two ponds, the Mardi Gras tree, “Mama” Jade (65 years old) and her family, the shade sails over the hosta bed, the succulent tree and huge beds devoted to particular types of flowers.

In addition to his house and gardens, Denenberg’s extensive collection of childhood toys will go to The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York. His massive collection of things from “The Wizard of Oz” will go to the Schreiber Center for Pediatric Development, which helped him with a speech impediment decades ago.

Sitting in the midst of his hundreds of flowers, Denenberg, who is now fully recovered from a stroke two years ago, says, “I was blessed with two incredible parents, an amazing sister and a wonderful life. I want to continue to honor Diana and my family through perpetuity, and donating my treasures is one way I can do that. Life is good.”

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