John D. Dennis was born September 18, 1937 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of Helen and John Dennis. He attended schools there, then earned his bachelor of arts degree from Wesleyan University in 1959 and two degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary — a Bachelor of Divinity in 1962 and a master’s degree in counseling in 1965. He took his ordination exams in Pittsburgh and studied alongside Fred Rogers, of children’s television fame, who was a friend and also an ordained Presbyterian minister. After his ordination in 1962, John served as assistant minister at the First Presbyterian Church in Germantown, Pennsylvania.
Nancy Dennis was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Althea and Carl Schumacher, on October 11, 1940. She received an undergraduate degree from Smith College in 1962 and completed a year of graduate studies in Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1963-1964. The following year she taught English in the Kowloon True Light Middle School in Hong Kong. She participated in an archeological dig in Israel, then traveled around the world for a year with her cousin and a friend.
While attending a National Educators Meeting in St. Louis, Missouri, John met Nancy. The two were married in 1967. While they were living in Philadelphia, Nancy was involved with the Junior League, served as a guide at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, becoming only one of forty guide trainees to achieve a perfect score in the guide accreditation examination that year. She also became a member of the League of Women Voters, a membership she continued after the couple relocated to Oregon.
John and Nancy moved to Corvallis in June of 1969, where John became pastor of the First Presbyterian Church. Nancy began volunteering with the Assistance League of Corvallis in 1973 and was president in 1990-1991, when the Assistance League house was acquired. She has been involved on the boards of the Madison Avenue Task Force, the Benton Hospice Service and CALYX, a local women’s literary publisher. She was on the founding board for Festival Corvallis, the summer music festival, from 1979 to 1982. She served as president of the board of directors for the local YMCA in the early 1970s, becoming one of the first women to preside over a YMCA organization in the country. A graduate of the first Volunteer Training Course at the Oregon Coast Aquarium, Nancy was a volunteer interpreter for five years. Later, she served as president of the board of directors while Keiko (star of “Free Willy”) was in residence. She was an elder in the First Presbyterian Church from 1989 to 1991 and also served on the church’s board of trustees for two years.
During John’s tenure as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, the church expanded its buildings, its finances, and its ministry. The congregation has repeatedly risen to challenges to raise funds for relief efforts in Pakistan, Nicaragua, the Ukraine, and South Africa. The church has actively supported Sunflower House, AIDS ministries, We CARE, Habitat for Humanity, and many others. In one year alone, the First Presbyterian Church provided more than $85,000 to such endeavors. John is the longest-tenured minister of a Corvallis congregation. He began his many contributions to the community by founding the FISH emergency aid program. He also created the Corvallis Sister City Association, serving as president from 1989 to 1991. He has worked extensively with a wide range of local organizations, including the United Way of Benton County, Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, the State Council of Chambers (of which he was President), the Madison Avenue Task Force, and the Greater Corvallis Rotary Club. In 1997, he was named Rotarian of the Year.
Both John and Nancy share a love of racquet sports. Nancy has been involved in competitive tennis and was a member of the U.S. Tennis Association 4.0 team that won the state championships in 1992. Until recent years, athletics were a very big part of John’s life. He was a three-time Western Pennsylvania junior tennis champion and a three time Pacific Coast doubles champion in the game of squash, with national rankings in the latter. In graduate school, he was assistant coach of national championship undefeated teams at Princeton University.
In 1988, John ran for Congress but was defeated in the primary. One of his most passionate concerns has been the victims of land mines in Cambodia, many of them children. “It is unimaginable to us in America, but one of 250 Cambodians is an amputee — more than 98 percent due to landmines.” He became involved because, he said, “Someone had to do it.”
John and Nancy raised two sons, Michael and Andrew. Michael was born April 22, 1970—the original Earth Day. Andrew was born December 20, 1971. Both boys attended Hoover and Cheldelin schools and one year at Crescent Valley High School before going to private boarding schools. Michael went to Groton School in Groton, Massachusetts, for four years and graduated cum laude in 1989. He went on to Swarthmore College and earned a B.A. in history. He went on to earn a master’s in business administration from the University of California at Berkeley. Andrew finished his high school years at St. Andrews School in Middletown, Delaware, graduating magna cum laude in 1990. He was the recipient of the Art Prize for creativity and expression in the arts and went on to earn a B.A. in fine arts at Haverford College in 1994. In June of 2001 he earned a graduate degree at the University of Washington, and worked for five years at OMSI’s Hancock Field Station. Both of their sons have worked internationally, Michael in Bangkok as a business consultant for the Kenan Institute Asia Business Advisory Center and Andrew as assistant field director for the World Monuments Fund involved with the Preah Khan Conservation Project in Cambodia. Andrew’s artistic talent was channeled into editorial cartoons.
When the Rev. John Dennis had served in his ministry at the First Presbyterian Church of Corvallis for thirty years, friends and members of the congregation and the community wanted to honor his and his wife’s lifelong dedication of service to others. With these contributions, and those of the Dennis family, the John and Nancy Dennis Scholarship Fund was established.
The following individuals contributed to the founding of the John and Nancy Dennis Scholarship Fund: John and Nancy Dennis, Dr. James H. and Doris Van Olst, Dr. D. D. and Jean P. Bibler, John B. and Dorothy Fenner, L. A. and H. N. Field, Linda S. Getetsberger, Dr. Thomas K. and Jeanne H. Griffith, Dr. David R. and Lynn A. Grube, David A. and Glenda K. Hawley, Robert T. and Susan C. Johnson, Dr. John C. and Carol B. Krauss, Richard L. and Barbara J. Moon, Peter C. and Judith List, Stephen V. and Lynne M. Neville, Evelyn H. Price, Richard F. and Kimberly A. Thompson, John Vito, R. Tim and Sandra J. Willis, Robert C. Wilson. The fund provides scholarships to Oregon State University students from Benton County.