Dennis Dick, born and raised in Niagara-on-the-Lake, served his community in many ways, including spending 23 years as a town councillor.
From 1991, when he was first elected, and for the next two decades, Dennis helped shape the future of the town. As Jim Collard, his friend and colleague on council, recalls, “he was always saying, during council discussions, ‘what’s your vision? What do you want this town to look like in 20 or 30 years?’ That was always most important to him. He loved this town, loved doing what folks elected him and asked him to do.”
Dennis died Friday, Aug. 21, at the age of 67, a year to the day after being diagnosed with an aggressive and rare form of lymphoma.
Despite the time he spent around the council table, he was never a politician, his former colleagues say. He was a man who loved his town, and wanted to do his best by it.
Those who served with him describe him as a listener.
He would sit through discussions, swivelling in his council chair, fingertips steepled, and say little. But when he did speak, in his big, booming voice, he was decisive, brief and to the point, saying what he had to say with conviction.
Collard, who says he has lost a friend of 30 years, recalls time spent together watching the Super Bowl, holidaying together in Florida, and enjoying an annual lobsterfest with friends and family that went back more than 25 years.
Collard describes Dennis as a man who fiercely loved his family, and was grateful to have his adult children close by, where he would see them once or twice a week for family dinners.
“Dennis was so proud of his kids. He was able to see Jake (his son) get married, although he was not well at the time.
That was a blessing.”
Dennis and his wife Shirley, married 38 years, have two adult children, Denise Horne, who is the heritage planner for the Town of NOTL, and Jake, who works in the Town’s operations department. Dennis was happy to see them both doing well, and enjoyed spending time with them and their spouses.
When he, Dennis and Dave Lepp, a fellow long-time former councillor of NOTL and friend, got together, they would sometimes have to “agree to disagree” on issues to do with the town, Collard says. “We did that with love in our hearts. It was never about winning or losing, it was always about doing what was right for the town.”
However, the last battle Dennis fought was very much about winning, says Collard, who had the flag at his bed and breakfast lowered to half staff in memory of his friend.
“Every treatment the doctors could offer, Dennis would say, ‘let’s do it.’ He felt he had so much more to live for. Unfortunately he didn’t get to do it,” says Collard.
“He was like a brother to me. I’m going to miss him.”
Dennis’s wife Shirley says although he really battled through his cancer, including undergoing a stem cell transplant, “he never let it defeat his spirit. If anyone asked him how he was, it was always, ‘everything’s good.’ He had such a positive attitude. He so much wanted to live longer, to see his grandkids grow up, and he had so many things he wanted to do. He was working right up until the day before he went into the hospital.”
He kept “tremendously busy,” serving on several boards and committees, with his business, and seeing his kids and granddaughter.
“That was his joy,” says Shirley.
He loved to go fishing and hunting with Jake and his son-in-law Colin, but what many people didn’t know about Dennis was that he also liked to bake with Denise, especially traditional Mennonite dishes, says Shirley. “They would bond over that,” she adds.
There were many celebrations involving extended family, “and Dennis was always looking forward to them. He tried not to let his illness slow him down. He was always pushing ahead. That’s the way he lived his life.”
“It’s going to be so different for us, not having his big, booming voice around.”
She says she’s grateful for the wonderful support they received, especially from their faith community.
Members of Bethany Mennonite Church, everywhere they went, they would run into people who would wish him well and say they were praying for him. “He was so encouraged by that. It meant a lot to him.”
Finn Madsen worked with Dennis over the course of many years on the Harmony Residents Group. Madsen says Dennis represented the group, which promoted the establishment of a park on the Parks Canada Lakeshore Road property, at Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority meetings. “He was a great sounding board when it came to working with the municipal and regional levels of government,” says Madsen. “In addition, Dennis kept the Harmony board updated on the agricultural community. He was still very much involved with the community at many levels, up to and including during his illness. He will be sorely missed.”
Dave Lepp, a former long-time councillor with Dennis, was also a friend from childhood. Their parents were friends, so they spent a lot of time together, right through high school, and later as colleagues.
They went to the same high school (Niagara District Secondary School), the same church, and had a lot of the same perspectives and values, he says.
When it came to politics, “I’m not sure we agreed on most things, but we respected each other’s decisions.”
He recalls Dennis as someone “who was always there for the betterment of the community, and not concerned only about certain areas. He found serving on council an opportunity to learn about the community. He was a fair and equitable man, never wishy-washy in his opinions, and never afraid to make a decision. He wasn’t a politician who wanted to be heard, he wanted to listen, and then he wanted to get on with it.”
Lepp lists several town committees Dennis was on, including the committee of adjustment, the irrigation committee, and the agricultural committee, on which he continued to serve when he was no longer on council.
He was on the board of Radiant Care (Pleasant Manor and Tabor Manor), and was a long-standing member of the Virgil Business Association, always active at the annual Virgil Stampede and devoted to the continuing development of the Virgil Sports Park.
In the last year, the two took to walking together, in the winter on the track at the community centre, which Dennis was proud to have been a part of helping to become a reality, and in the better weather, outside, enjoying the beautiful views the town has to offer, says Lepp. Dennis was determined to do what he could to keep as strong and healthy as possible, as a way to fight his illness. While they walked, they would chat, usually about day-to-day stuff, Lepp says.
Most of all, he adds, “Dennis really enjoyed being a grandpa. He really loved his granddaughter so much. She was very dear to him.”
“I’ve lost a close friend,” says Lepp. “You only get so many of those in a lifetime, and Dennis was one of them.”