The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

November 19, 2012

Stanly County humanitarian Joe Dennis remembered, honored

By Ian Faulkner, Staff Writer

Monday, November 19, 2012 — On Oct. 20, 2012, Stanly County said farewell to a true visionary with a Heart.

His ministry, The Homeplace Rest and Retirement has provided comfort and health care for more than seventy senior ladies in their golden years.

He was born Oct. 25, 1934, in Albemarle, North Carolina to Flossie Mae Gardner Dennis and Alexander Alvin Dennis on what would later be called Sweet Home Church Road.

In 1946, at the age of 12, Joe joined the Boy Scouts.

In time he attained the honor of achieving the rank of ‘life scout,’ a very high honor in the scouting world.

In 1947, at the age of 13, he accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior. He was attending Anderson Grove Baptist Church.

As he attained adulthood, he became more involved in the service of the church holding the position of deacon at each church of which he was a member.

In 1948, at the age of 14, Joe attended the Cape Fear Council Jamboree. He became the captain of that same drill team for the ‘Boys of Woodcraft.’

The team in turn won honors for the Marching Drill Team of North Carolina.

He also helped with the family sawmill as a young teen and in 1949, while sawing tobacco sticks, Joe lost three fingers in a milling accident. Only his index and thumb remained.

His handicap did not change his resolve to work or play.

He and his brother, in his eighth and ninth grade, delivered newspapers early in the morning before school.

He played baseball (first base) for four years and football for two years.

After graduation he managed his father’s sawmill for the next four years.

In the 1950’s, while in high school, he was a member of the FFA “Future Farmers of America.”

Joe’s projects consisted of maintaining 2.7 acres of tobacco and additional acreage of corn and cucumbers using a horse and eventually a tractor. This required working in the field early before school.

During that same time, Joe started dating a young lady by the name of Bertha Mae Heustess.

They had attended school together since sixth grade, but were reintroduced on their senior trip to Washington, D.C. in the Spring of 1953.

Joe and Bertha fell in love and were married on Oct. 30, 1954.

Joe wished to serve in the U.S. Army; however, the loss of his fingers left him with a 4F classification and he was unable to serve in the military during the Korean Conflict.

Instead, never considering his hand as a disability, he was accepted to, attended and graduated from the Nashville Auto Diesel College.

While Joe was in college, Bertha was a homemaker and they began a family with their children Sharon, Dwight and Carla.

As soon as Joe graduated from Diesel College in 1958, he gained employment with Hollingsworth GMC Dealership in Charlotte from 1959 - 1961.

He then began work for The Dickerson Construction Company in Monroe from 1961 to 1985.

During this time, while the children were growing up, the couple owned and operated Children's Day Care of Monroe.

In 1972, they closed the day care and the family moved to Marshville.

While living there, Joe continued his work with Dickerson and teaching Diesel mechanic’s at CPCC at night.

Joe and Bertha’s first endeavor in taking care of the elderly began in Marshville where they managed a family care home.

This is where his ministry actually began.

In 1985, Joe went to work for F.T. Williams in Charlotte  as superintendent over maintenance of heavy equipment where he worked until he retired on Dec. 31, 1995.

Joe’s father, Alexander Dennis, passed away in 1982 and he was determined to honor the promise that his father had made: to take care of Joe’s grandmother, Henrietta Dennis, who was at the time living in a local Share-A-Home.

In 1983, Joe purchased his grandmother’s house and sent his son, Dwight and his wife, Debbie, to settle in Albemarle in his father’s original home place.

In 1984, Joe and Bertha sold their home in Monroe and moved to Albemarle, to continue renovations with Dwight and Debbie.

After a fall, Grandma Henrietta Morton Dennis, had to make new living arrangements.

Joe and Bertha then took her into her own home, that they had bought.

They also took in an ailing neighbor and from that act of kindness, Joe and Bertha felt a deeper calling.

As a result of this calling, they jumped through all the hoops and became licensed for a family care home.

Bertha came up with the name, The Homeplace.

At that time they were allowed to keep four residents.

A few years later, the state changed the rules and they could then have six residents.

Their son Dwight, and his wife Debbie, along with their daughter Carla, also helped from the beginning.

In 1991, an addition was built which would accommodate two more residents and were licensed for six.

Joe put his paycheck into the business every week for many years in order to keep the rest home business afloat.

He was thinking way beyond what many of us would imagine.

He was not only looking out for his mother to be cared for, but also his wife and himself. He also wanted to be able to employ his children.

He did this and more.

Joe had a foresight that went beyond months or a year, but for many generations to come.

In Joe’s retirement, his work continued and his loss of the fingers were his trademark.

His jeep could be heard through the community beeping a distinct sound.

Neighbors would expect a wave with fingers missing and a smile as to say, “I Love You.”

Today, The Homeplace Rest and Retirement, is owned and operated by their son Dwight and his wife, Debbie Dennis, at it’s new location on Vickers Store Road.

Their children are following in their parents’ and grandparents’ legacy.

At the end of his life’s journey, he was honored by having his grandsons labor with their strength of heart and muscle to open and close the grave his mortal body rests in.

What started out to be a promise to his grandmother became a ministry to over 70 elderly ladies here in the Stanly County area for the last 28 years.

Because of Joe’s obedience to the vision that God gave him and his love for the elderly, “The Homeplace” became the finest example or model of what a home for the elderly should be.

Joe took James 1:27 to heart: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”