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Random Thoughts: A Community Conversation with Bill and Barbara Dennis

Bill and Barbara Dennis of Frank’s Heroes [personal photo]

This week, Mid Rivers Newsmagazine talks with Bill Dennis, who with his wife, Barbara, founded Frank’s Heroes, a 501[c][3] organization that offers free guitar lessons to veterans. Named for Bill’s father, the organization began in the back room of a Main Street restaurant. Now, its meetings are held every Saturday from 10 a.m.-noon at Christview Christian Church, 64 Terrie Lane in St. Charles. The organization has grown to about half a dozen instructors, including Bill, teaching between 20 and 30 veterans. Bill has played guitar with multiple different musicians and bands, including Buddy Moreno and Glenn Miller’s orchestras. Both he and his dad are veterans, with his father having served in World War II. 

What’s the best lesson you’ve learned in life?

The best lesson I’ve learned is that it’s really nice to help other people. I think my wife and I have both really enjoyed doing what we’re doing. We never thought that we’d have so many veterans coming to our lessons. I never thought we’d have almost half a dozen instructors that are also helping us now. It’s a good thing to see something go from one or two or maybe three veterans to 25 or 30 or so. It’s a pretty big deal. I was very fortunate. When I was in high school, I was teaching guitar lessons part-time, and later on, I played … with some of the orchestras around St. Louis, mainly. It was a neat thing for a young kid like me.

 What is the most significant place you’ve been?

The one we were very, very honored, I should say, to participate in was down in Branson. They have a Veterans Week down there in November … Then there was another thing we did a while back in the Lake of the Ozarks. Of course, that was for veterans, too. For us, it was quite an honor. Very much a highlight for us, to be mentioned that we’re teaching our fellow veterans guitar lessons here in St. Charles, and that we’ve been doing it for a while and that some of these guys are doing pretty good with it. They really enjoy it. So, it’s been a good deal … [and] it’s all free. [The instructors are] volunteering their services. It’s a pretty neat deal.

What is something that all kids should do?

I think it’s important for kids, and anybody really, to get involved in sports, music or anything like that. Something besides school. We all have to go to school, that’s great, but I think having other outlets – like baseball, football or taking lessons or playing in a band or something like that – is really good. Especially if you can use it later in life as I did.

What do you wish you personally knew more about?

I love music, obviously. I got to hear and see some very fine guitar players in my day, too. Years ago, in St. Louis even, Mr. Mel Bay himself was quite the player. Bobby Caldwell is another really fine guitar player here in St. Louis … those fellows, over the years [and] especially in my younger days, made me think ‘Boy, I’d love to be able to do something like that.’ So that was very inspirational to me when I was a kid.

What values are most meaningful to you?

I guess, with being retired, I think just doing what we’re doing is a really neat thing. We both enjoy it. Of course, my wife’s brothers were both in the service also and my dad, Frank, was a decorated veteran. I’d like to mention his name. His name was Frank A. Dennis, and he was in the Battle of the Bulge and was a decorated veteran. That’s why we call it “Frank’s Heroes.” At the Coffee for Vets event we did [earlier this month], it was really neat to see quite a few fellows with T-shirts on that said “Frank’s Heroes” on them. I thought that was pretty cool.

[Editor’s note: Dennis invites those seeking to participate or support Frank’s Heroes to call (314) 479-5750 for more information.]

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