Community

He tells them they can do anything

Dennis Hunter runs the career technical education program at South Whidbey High School and is this month’s Hometown Hero. - Spencer Webster / The Record
Dennis Hunter runs the career technical education program at South Whidbey High School and is this month’s Hometown Hero.
— image credit: Spencer Webster / The Record

Dennis Hunter’s passion is to help people to feel significant for who they are and in what they do.

“As a young person I wanted to be an architect,” Hunter recalls. “Years later I found out that my algebra grades weren’t high enough. If I had known learning algebra related to my goal I would have applied myself.”

This experience inspired him to become an educator and athletic coach to help students see the relevance of their learning and their passions.

In his signature tie and sports jacket, Hunter is an unforgettable figure. He bobs his head up and down enthusiastically while talking, the movement eclipsed by his broad and genuine smile. Hunter firmly believes that if someone has a heart for an idea — and if they want it badly enough — they can learn just about anything.

“Dennis Hunter, or ‘Den Dog’ as many students and colleagues call him, is an outstanding educator and kid magnet,” says Mike Johnson, the former principal of South Whidbey High School who now serves as executive director of teaching and learning for the school district.

“Dennis is an excellent teacher, outstanding coach, a team player and a terrific thinker and problem solver. We often refer to him as the idea man.”

Johnson says Hunter is always there for students and staff to help with homecoming, sports games, Falcon tutorials or senior parades. He’s developed many new programs such as sports medicine, graphic arts and pre- engineering principles.

“I just can’t say enough. It is because of leaders like Dennis that we were selected as a Blue Ribbon School,” Johnson says.

Students appreciate his guiding presence in the high school, as well.

Christine Johnson, a South Whidbey High School student, writes, “Mr. Hunter’s friendly smile and wave in the school hallways always makes my day better. He’s always an uplifting person to see. As I have moved through high school, he has helped me on many occasions.”

Hunter says students need to know they are cared for.

“If we listen and attend their recitals, games and plays, it will come through that we genuinely care. Along with caring about them, we need to prepare our students for adulthood with classes and skills that connect to their interests and goals.

“I believe firmly in the value of young adults participating in extra-curricular activities: music, the arts, athletics, Scouts, equestrians, etc. The experience from these activities builds strong character and integrity.”

He takes his sports teams off for a couple of days, for example, and they talk about the athletic code and commitment and why each promise is important. It shows them the relevance of the rules to their game and their life.

“I tell them if we don’t have character and integrity on our team, we don’t have anything,” Hunter explains.

“Dennis has a heart of gold and would do anything for you,” says Angela Czarnik, an EMT and Hunter’s secretary at the high school. “He steps back from a situation to get the big picture before making a decision.

“Dennis always takes the high road. He is a true gift to this community; a loving husband, a classy professional and true friend to many.”

Hunter was shaped by the lessons he himself learned early in life. He remembers his dad.

“I think everyone that met Dad called him a friend. Dad was the general manager of a large auto sales business. Every one that he sold a car to became a lifelong friend.

“One afternoon, a guy in bib overalls came in still smelling of the dirt he had been working with. Suddenly all the other salesmen disappeared. My dad went out and happily helped the man, named John. Within 15 minutes John reached in his wallet and pulled enough cash for a brand new Cadillac. And John invited our whole family over for dinner that night, becoming another lifelong friend of Dad’s.”

Hunter remembered his dad telling him, “Son you get out of life what you put into it — so put in 150 percent, especially your family.”

Hunter met his wife, Janet, 26 years ago when he advertised his downstairs apartment for rent.

“After some time, we began to court.

I could tell it was getting serious when the rent checks quit coming in.

“We’ve been blessed with two great kids Madyson, age 11, and Kohl, age 10. It’s wonderful to be a dad of young kids at age 61, even though I had to get used to comments like, ‘Nice grandchildren you have.’”

He is also quick to point out that many have helped make him who he is today.

Hunter says, “What I really want to say is,

I couldn’t do anything if it weren’t for the people around me at school and in this community. Our schools and community provide an excellent foundation for young adults to pursue their academic and professional dreams.

“South Whidbey is full of outstanding people, there are angels among us. This is the kind of population that if you have a vision that’s going to help someone, this community will get behind it. The unsung heroes are all the individuals that volunteer in the background whose work is so essential in making this community the caring place it is.”

What others say about Hunter

“Dennis has brought so much joy and bliss to our family. We love him and his whole family. His forever, ongoing good energy, inspiration and his amazing art work is incredible. His work on this planet is beyond the surface, beyond amazing. Dennis is a gift to us all!”

Kat, Paul, Myles and Max Divina,

community volunteers

“Dennis is dedicated to people of all ages, sharing his

time and talents unselfishly. He always has a kind and

encouraging word for everyone within the classroom, helping them to explore opportunities that await them as they enter adulthood.”

Bruce and Kathy Callahan,

South Whidbey Intermediate teachers

“I first met Dennis in 1981, shortly after moving to

Washington. It didn’t take long to see that he was a first-class guy. I’ve enjoyed his infectious enthusiasm for kids, school, sports, friends and family. Dennis is a great pick for

Hometown Hero.”

Bob Perkins, parent and Clinton dentist

“One of Dennis’ most inspirational attributes is his ability to create ‘community.’ He has a natural ability to bring people together in a very positive manner. He’s always cheerful,

supportive and incredibly upbeat.”

Darci Chowen, volunteer

“For years, Dennis has been connecting students with the skills and knowledge they need to be successful after high school. His visionary leadership has helped to create an

integrated tutorial program at South Whidbey High School that is serving as a model for other districts across the state.”

Helen Price Johnson, school board

“Dennis has a passion for career exploration for all

students. His annual career fairs and college planning nights provide benefits to the community and students. Due to his energy and creativity, the South Whidbey High School Career Fairs utilize nearly 100 South Whidbey High School alums who tell their journey to students. Dennis had a dream for the best senior (culminating project) presentations. With his diligent work along with Principal Mike Johnson and teachers, he brought the community and parents aboard and created a comprehensive plan now in place.”

Cynthia Shelton, Director of Prep Work

Consortium of Island/Skagit County

“Dennis ‘Den Dog’ Hunter gave our son Jordon his

nickname ‘Honus.’ Honus is some famous shortstop baseball player. Dennis gives 150 percent to whatever he does. He is a very good athlete himself, and don’t fall victim to his golf handicap. It is an honor to have Dennis as our son’s Little League coach and friend.”

John, Kelly and Jordon aka “Honus” Henriot

“Dennis is a professional educator and skilled leader. He

is an enthusiastic advocate and a motivational force for

students, staff and this community. He is a valued member

of our administrative leadership team. His presence lights

up a room. He is a devoted husband and father. I appreciate his positive attitude and optimism in the face of challenges.

Dennis epitomizes for me the great people and skilled

educators that exist here in our communities.”

Fred McCarthy, South Whidbey

School Distrct Superintendent

“Dennis Hunter — aka ‘Den Dog’ — is a hoot. When you talk to the ‘Dog,’ his fond memories of his childhood reflects the way he works with the kids of South Whidbey. Den Dog knows his X’s and O’s; he is the master of teaching sound

fundamentals, but the most important imprint he leaves on our kids is the LIFE LESSON he shares. When he was the dean of students, students that adored him nicknamed him the ‘Den Dog.’ And dude, a sports tip — you’re 61 years old, quit diving for those balls.”

Bill Patterson, South Whidbey teacher and coach

“Dennis is a natural teacher and a team player who

understands the importance of each individual’s unique

contribution. His willingness and interest in always making things better for our young people has made a difference.”

Greg Willis, former Langley Middle School Principal

“When I was the school nurse of South Whidbey from 1988 to 1999, Dennis was one of those people who made it fun to come to work. He was always able to humanize the high school when it sometimes felt a bit impersonal or

intimidating. He was always just plain fun to be around, for adults and kids alike. He has a larger-than-life personality and treats life as an adventure and new people, as treats to be savored.”

Miriam Raabe, former South Whidbey

School District nurse and parent

“I remember Dennis as a flexible problem-solver, who is always focused on how to serve kids better. No matter what position or program he is in, he never loses sight of why he is doing the job…it’s the kids.”

Lisa Bjork, former South Whidbey

School District superintendant

“Dennis Hunter, aka ‘Den Dog,’ is a true Hometown Hero. He has maintained a consistent focus on educating,

encouraging and coaching South Whidbey High School students. Whether students are headed off to college, or directly entering the workforce, they can rely on his sincere passion for helping to prepare a career path. During my time at Langley High School, Dennis was just as he is today, very energetic, and a consistent inspiration, with his

encouragement to be Kingbowl Champs.”

Damian Greene, parent, previous South Whidbey student, active community volunteer

“What’s not to love about this guy! Dennis Hunter is the epitome of the Hometown Hero. He is a great father,

husband, educator and friend. He radiates to all he comes into contact with along with his light-up-your-face beaming smile. Whenever Dennis comes into the Star Store, it’s like a genuine connection with family, with his warm hearted hug or handshake. He always is asking about our daughter; that’s how he is, he forever cares about all of the students. He is one of those rare guiding lights.”

Gene and Tamar Felton, owners of Langley’s

Star Store and health food stores

“Dennis is an enthusiastic, energetic and inspiring member of our high school faculty. He relates well with all students, and helps them see the relevance of their education in their future lives. His office walls are literally covered by notes, cards and photos from former and current students — he has certainly had a far-reaching impact on thousands of young lives! Dennis and his wife Janet are caring, compassionate friends who bend over backwards to help anyone who needs it. They are some of the most hospitable people I know!

Dennis may be retiring from his career in education, but he will continue to be the captain of the Deer Lake Yacht Club!”

Jenny Gochanour, parent and teacher

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