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Published: Wednesday, 8/18/2004

MRDD leader worked to assist disabled people

James F. Denes, a former superintendent of the Lucas County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, died yesterday in Marietta Memorial Hospital. He was 61.

Mr. Denes, who had diabetes, had contracted pneumonia. He had been ill for many years following a kidney transplant, his wife, Susan, said.

She said he was a born teacher who found his niche in serving people with disabilities, believing that they belonged in society with nondisabled people.

"I think he didn't see people as disabled, meaning it would hold [them] down," she said. "It was 'How much can you do?'●"

Mr. Denes was director at Camp Courageous in the Whitehouse area during the summers of 1963 to 1968, his wife said.

In 1969, he became principal of two schools run by the Lucas County MRDD board, and in 1973, Mr. Denes supervised all the board's schools.

In 1977, he became executive director of program services, and in 1978, superintendent of the MRDD board. It had 425 employees, 1,400 children in its schools, and 600 adults in its workshops. He helped establish the board's senior center and early childhood and infant stimulation programs.

Mrs. Denes said he developed one of the first programs in the county to diagnose children as autistic.

He enjoyed administration.

"He was very good at handling money and working with people to develop programs," she said.

After six years as superintendent, he needed a kidney transplant and resigned. After he recovered, he moved to Marietta in southeastern Ohio to become superintendent of the Washington County MRDD board there because it was a less stressful job, his wife said.

Ginger O'Connor, director of therapy and early childhood in Washington County, said, "He cared not only for the students, but also for the staff, and that came out very clearly in the decisions that he made."

She said he could make difficult decisions about staffing or budgetary issues and make people understand why he made them.

He retired on disability in 1993.

Mr. Denes was born Nov. 11, 1942, in Cleveland and graduated from Holy Name High School there in 1960.

He went to Kent State University planning to be a biology teacher, but became interested in special education when he worked at a camp for people with disabilities. He received a master's in special education from Kent State.

He later received an educational specialist degree from the University of Toledo.

Mr. Denes was a special education teacher at Brush High School in the South Euclid-Lyndhurst district before moving to Toledo to work at Camp Courageous.

"He tried to make it really a good class to get people ready for the world," she said.

He was an active member of St. Mary's Catholic Church, where he served as a eucharistic minister. He served in the St. Vincent DePaul Society.

Surviving are his wife of 36 years, Susan Denes; sons, James and Jonathan Denes; sisters, JoAnn Kraine and Linda Thomas, and two grandchildren.

The body will be in the Hadley Funeral Home Reno Chapel in Marietta after 2 p.m. tomorrow.

Services will be at 10 a.m. Friday in St. Mary's Catholic Church.

The family suggests tributes to the Washington County MRDD board or the Kidney Foundation.



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