Fairbanks says "Thank you Dennis & Mary Wise!!"

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Community Service Award by the Arctic Alliance for People

Dermot Cole, with the Fairbanks Daily News Miner, wrote on December 7, 2000:

The late Edna Wise was known for her big heart and her compassion for animals. She found homes for a thousand or more cats over the years in Fairbanks and thought of herself as someone who provided a “voice for the voiceless.”

Her son, Dennis, a builder of apartments, stores, and warehouses, has in the past few years found his own way to provide a “voice for the voiceless” those in Fairbanks who only see prosperity from afar.

For that he was honored with a Community Service Award Wednesday by the Arctic Alliance for People, a coalition of non-profit social service organizations in Fairbanks.

It was entirely appropriate that the ceremony followed a presentation by Ann Secrest of the University of Alaska Fairbanks on the evolution of laws and attitudes about philanthropy.

In recent years no one in Fairbanks has been a more active philanthropist then Wise.

A graduate of Lathrop High School in 1959, he started his career as a plumber and went on to become the most prominent developers in Fairbanks, succeeding more often then he failed. He has now sold many of his business ventures in Fairbanks and is most active in construction in Phoenix, but this is still his hometown.

A couple of years ago he donated a splendid new $1.5 million home for the Fairbanks Community Food Bank on the south side of town and followed it up this year with the creation of a new $5 million home for the Fairbanks Rescue Mission in the same neighborhood. Wise has been involved in almost every detail of both projects and has worked long hours on both sites.

During one early discussion about the new building, Rescue Mission Executive Director Wendell Otness mentioned to Wise that he had just been called to go out and retrieve a road-killed moose. This was during a cold snap. Last year the mission received 22 moose that had to be butchered by Otness outside his house, no matter how cold the weather, to help feed the mission residents.

When the next set of plans for the building appeared, Otness noticed that Wise had included a butcher shop inside to make the building more efficient and useful.

Everyone close to the mission project says that the idea of building a nice facility has a big psychological component. The hope is that the surroundings will help convey a message that may not be transmitted in a building that is old, crowded and worn out. Those who make use of this new building will do so because their lives have been derailed for one reason or another.

In this new mission, they may better recognize that they have value and they can recover from the wounds, even those that are self-inflicted, that have led them to where they are today.

As Otness puts it, the people who go to the mission often have had a life-changing experience of a negative kind that led them to trouble. This new mission, he believes, may be the start of a life-changing experience of the positive kind.

Wise is in Arizona, so he wasn’t present for the ceremony Wednesday at the annual meeting of the Arctic Alliance at Wickersham Banquet Hall. Samantha Castle, executive director of the Food Bank, was in the unique position of presenting the award and accepting it on Wise’s behalf.

She said she is sometimes guilty of using hyperbole, but not about the new rescue mission , which is now set to open in early January.

“I hope that most of you realize that he is building the most fabulous rescue mission in the world right here in Fairbanks,” she said.

“If any of you think he’s doing this as a tax write-off, think again,” she said. “Certainly there are some tax advantages to him, but they are not incentive for that size gift. The tax advantages do not equal the gift.”

She said that in donation the food bank and the rescue mission, Wise is helping the community “give the best we have to the people who have the least.”

Castle said that Wise is not a man to waste resources and he has used imagination and care to make the building attractive.

For example, she said he mentioned how it doesn’t cost more to use two colors of tile instead of one, it just looks better if you have two. Plus, it doesn’t cost more to place the tile at an angle, it just looks better that way.

After recognizing the need for a new rescue mission, the old building having been inadequate for many years, Wise toured other missions in the Lower 48 and worked with an architect on plans for the new Fairbanks building on land he also donated.

Otness said he had hoped to finish the move by mid-December, but kitchen work and inspections may delay that until the New Year.

One part of the new mission is a learning center so mission residents can get an education and the chance for a fresh start.

anne@wiseprojects.org © 2005