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Published: Sunday, 6/12/2011

James B. Dennis, 1935-2011: Ohio Bell liaison led Press Club in Toledo

BY MARK ZABORNEY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

RAWSON, Ohio -- James B. Dennis, a longtime Ohio Bell official whose duties in northwest Ohio put him in touch with civic and community groups and reporters and editors, died June 5 at his home in Hancock County's Eagle Township. He would have turned 76 on June 6.

He had pulmonary fibrosis, his wife, Judy, said.

Mr. Dennis retired in 2002 from a career that began 44 years earlier with the Ohio Bell Telephone Co. Early on, he worked at Ohio Bell offices in Columbus and Dayton. The last few years of his tenure he was based in Findlay and was manager of public relations for Findlay, Fostoria, Fremont, Sandusky, Tiffin, and Upper Sandusky.

He navigated changes in technology and also weathered changes to the company that hired him in 1958. The early 1980s brought the federally mandated breakup of the Bell system, once considered a force of nature.

"Ma Bell was like my second mother," Mr. Dennis told Homer Brickey, Blade senior business writer, in 2004. "AT&T was one of the finest corporations in the country, and service was the No. 1 objective. I was always proud to work for Ohio Bell."

Mr. Dennis was widely known as Ohio Bell's Toledo-area liaison between the phone company and businesses and community and elected leaders and the media. His duties included community, governmental, and public relations.

"He was a fixture of the phone company -- Ohio Bell and Ameritech and AT&T -- for many years," said Dennis Hellmann, AT&T director of external affairs for northwest Ohio. "Jim was a good communicator and, the best part about it was, he was very likeable and made friends easily. He warmed up to people, and they warmed up to him very quickly."

Mr. Dennis was on the boards of Junior Achievement of Northwest Ohio and United Health Services. He was a United Way of Greater Toledo volunteer and was a section and division chairman.

He was 1993 president of the Press Club of Toledo and, in 1999, received its Norm Cartwright Award, named for the late community relations manager for Ohio Bell.

He was born June 5, 1935, in Pittsburgh to Margaret and Glenn Dennis, who later moved to Findlay. When he was 9, the family found a farm near Rawson, Ohio.

He was a 1953 graduate of Findlay High School and a 1957 graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University.

He was a veteran of the Ohio Army National Guard.

In the early 1980s, he, his wife, and son moved to his childhood Hancock County homestead.

In the years after, the family refurbished and added on to the old farm house. He transformed the surrounding 25 acres of farmland into a near-nature preserve.

"Jim loved to plant trees, and we have hundreds of various kinds of trees," his wife said. "Everywhere we went, he picked up seeds or purchased trees."

Some trees were chosen for the type of bird they attracted. He noted in his journal the sighting of any bird he'd never seen before.

Mr. Dennis also kept track of the deer, foxes, and weasels that passed in front of his panoramic family-room view.

"We both enjoyed the outdoors, and he would mow all day on his old John Deere, checking trees as he went along," his wife said.

Surviving are his wife, Judy, whom he married April 12, 1969, son, John, and three grandchildren.

Memorial services are to be at 2 p.m. June 25 at St. Andrew's United Methodist Church, Findlay.

Arrangements are by the Coldren-Crates Funeral Home, Findlay. The family suggests tributes to the St. Andrew's outreach fund or Ohio Wesleyan University.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.



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