William Dennis inducted into Hall of Fame

July 9, 2003

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2003_07_09.jpgPLATTEVILLE - Every time University of Wisconsin-Platteville Professor Emeritus William Dennis hears the pep band strike up the fight song, he feels a little tinge of pride in his heart.

And he should. After all, he wrote it.

The 89-year-old former professor will be honored for that contribution and many others as he is inducted into the UWP Arts and Letters Hall of Fame July 12. He is among four individuals selected for induction into the hall's inaugural class. v

Dennis, who retired in 1982, taught at the University for 40 years, serving as chairperson of the music program for many of those years. Among his greatest achievements, he said, are simply the relationships he forged with colleagues and students.

"I met some nice people. Everyone knew each other and called each other by the first name," Dennis said. "They still remember me, and when they see me across the street they are glad to see me."

Current UWP Fine Arts Department Chairperson Dan Fairchild understands the impact Dennis had on the music department.

"At one time he was the music program," Fairchild said. "He was the person responsible for building it into the fine program that we have today." His involvement with the William Dennis Music Scholarship has also helped numerous students fund their education, Fairchild said.

Dennis has always enjoyed sports, and some of his fondest memories at the University are playing music at athletic events. It didn't take him long to get the idea to write the UWP fight song.

"When I first came here, the other teams in our conference were using songs from the Big Ten schools. Well I thought, 'Why not have our own?'" Dennis said. He also adapted the UWP Alma Mater.

The fight song has long been a favorite of the pep band, and even in his retirement Dennis gets a kick out of hearing the band strike up the tune.

"The kids really liked it," Dennis said. "When Bo Ryan was here they really whupped it up."

Dennis has had a long and distinguished music career beginning at an early age. Even as a teenager, he was traveling around the country playing music, and has performed in acts for Horace Heidt, Bunny Berigan, Charlie McCarthy and Abott and Costello, Dennis said.

As a young man, Dennis lived next to the mother of Curly Lambeau, founder of the Green Bay Packers. One day Curly approached him and asked if he wanted to play in the Packers band. Soon he was traveling with the team by train as they played against the Chicago Bears and New York Giants.

"I've had a few experiences, no doubt about that," Dennis said.

William's son, Greg Dennis, followed in his father's footsteps and is now a music professor at the University. Greg did his undergraduate work at UWP, and even had his father as an instructor. He said the senior Dennis tackled music with a "hands-on" approach.

"I think he was a very good theory teacher," the younger Dennis said. "To this day I use my notes from his class as opposed to any text."

Greg remembers the late nights as a child when his father would return home from basketball games with a group of friends.

"We'd be in bed, but we'd hear this music going on all night," Greg Dennis said. "He always enjoyed being the life of the party, but never demanded it."

Today William Dennis still enjoys playing the piano, and he regularly plays for the Kiwanis Club and the senior citizens. He has 650 "old-time" songs memorized.

"Even since his retirement, he's been active in the community, bringing the joy of music to people of all ages," Fairchild said.

And when he sees Chancellor David Markee or other members of the UWP community, its not uncommon for them to ask Dennis to strike up the fight song.

The first-ever UWP Arts and Letter Hall of Fame induction ceremony will begin at 5:30 p.m., Saturday, July 12, in the Pioneer Room of the Pioneer Student Center. A Heartland Festival performance of "Kiss Me, Kate!" will follow in the Brodbeck Concert Hall of the Center for the Arts. Other Hall of Fame honorees include former philosophy professor Barbara Parsons and distinguished alumni Michael Duncan and Jeffrey Post.

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