Speaking for himself and his wife Mary, Dennis Wise thanked the laudatory crowd filling the Westmark Gold Room Wednesday night for the honor of earning the Distinguished Citizen Award, which was bestowed upon them by the Midnight Sun Council Boy Scouts of America.
“Mary and I are deeply humbled by the honor … and grateful for the support and friendship we had for the almost 50 years we lived here,” Wise said.
They are responsible for building the Fairbanks Community Food Bank, the Fairbanks Rescue Mission, the Interior Alaska Center for Non-Violent Living and the Resource Center for Parents and Children, and much more philanthropic work throughout the Fairbanks community.
In typical Wise fashion he turned the tables on the audience and extolled the well-wishers, saying, “We felt privileged to do the work here,” before singling out the agency leaders — Samantha Kirstein, Rodney Gaskins, Brenda Stanfill and Coleen Turner — who he said have fed the hungry, provided shelter, offered assistance and counseling to broken families.
“They are the most dedicated, intelligent, effective leaders I have ever known … generally awesome,” he said, adding in the next breath equal praise for their staffs and volunteers.
As stories about the Wise family were told by Tim Cerny, longtime friend and partner; Steve Shuttleworth, friend and Fairbanks Building director; and Kirstein, Food Bank director, one was particularly poignant.
The Wises’ daughter, Jill Conway Meath, a young mother is following the family’s community service legacy volunteering for the Food Bank.
According to Kirstein, Meath is picking up leftover produce during the summer months at the Farmer’s Market to allow Kirstein time for family activities.
Wise’s parents, George and Edna, set the example volunteering in community construction and animal rescue and shelter work.
“Dennis and Mary are able to put together the art and science of projects, and they’ve added the joy to the package,” Kirstein said.
Cerny described Wise’s two outstanding personal traits as persistence and optimism, and said that the saying, “The man who gets ahead does more than is necessary and keeps on doing it” is “spot on” for Dennis.
“His day begins early and ends when no one is left,” Cerny added.
Shuttleworth recalls his first contact with Wise via a telephone call as “technically spirited,” but before long their relationship developed into a fundamental trust with rough spots smoothed out with Mary’s brainpower
“His word is his bond and his follow-through is excellent,” said Shuttleworth who also entertained the audience with “Dennispeaks or Dennisisms.”
“Buy the biggest piece of equipment you can find.”
Translation: “Roll up your sleeves and get the job done.”
“Does that get us there?”
Translation: “This is my best offer. I want you to get it done.”
“I don’t think you’re getting it.”
Translation: “I don’t think you’re getting it,” followed by the “look.”
Translation: Used sparingly. “Makes a person feel good inside.”
The remarkable relationship between the Wises’ profit-making construction company and Fairbanks nonprofit agencies has drawn the attention of others, in particular Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich.
“They (Dennis and Mary) find a cause dear to their hearts and they just do it,” Kirstein said, a simple explanation that outsiders want but find difficult to emulate.
“Some people write a check, but Dennis and Mary, they follow through,” Kirstein said.
Besides going over every detail of services provided with agency leaders, the Wises invest additional time and thought to providing avenues of earned income, such as rental spaces so agencies can sustain their state-of-the art buildings.
A serious illness a half dozen years ago slowed Dennis down, but Mary’s caregiving and promise he could get a “big boat,” are credited for his recovery. Today the semi-retired Wises summer in Washington state, enjoying outings on their 82-foot yacht in the Puget Sound and winters in Arizona, and enjoying their extended family especially their grandsons, Michael, 14, and Nicholas, 8.