The shops in Downtown Lawrence are quiet and peaceful in the early hours, but as businesses begin opening, the quiet area begins to become full of people shuffling in and out of the stores. However, in the early hours, there is one man in particular that stands out in the community. Community member Dennis lights up the stores with his energetic and friendly personality.
“He’s a super sweet guy, he always gives hugs, he’s always smiling and joking around with everyone. He’s a really nice guy and he isn’t here to harm anyone. Some people get the wrong vibe because of his appearance and that’s kind of messed up but he is super sweet,” KB & Co employee said.
Lawrence has a reputation for being accepting and Dennis is no exception.
“I know that Lawrence has a long history of being more than tolerant towards individuals. There is a high level of tolerance and support of each other. Dennis is mysterious and I think his mystery is part of his intrigue and that is part of the story. It’s like Cher or Madonna, but like we have Dennis,” Social Service League thrift store general manager Lisa Prudon said.
Local shop owners know Dennis well and have developed an attachment to having him around the area.
“Dennis is one of my favorite humans. He’s a beautiful human full of love. He is just a beautiful soul. He is everyone’s little brother. I don’t know if you noticed whenever you asked me [for an interview], I was like well what kind of story are you writing, like I need to know. This is basically my kid brother. I love Dennis and people are fiercely protective of him,” Striped Cow owner Nicole Manriquez said.
“He seems pretty positive and in a good mood, a couple of times he’s come in, asks us what’s going on, so I don’t know him super well, but I know a lot of people who do know him and he’s pretty nice,” Acme employee Miranda said.
With all of the friends that Dennis has made, he has a lot of stops in his day.
“A day in Dennis’ life is a super busy and on the go. It is pretty difficult to describe in brief. He starts his mornings around five and he heads downtown. He does all the stuff, goes to all the places, and sees all the people he knows. Then he saves some time to try and make new friends,” community member John Clayton said.
Dennis is sure to always stop by the thrift store, a special place to him and they are always more than happy to have him there.
“Our store is a special stop in his day. He’s such an important person in our community. I’m sure people can be mean, but we all are very protective of him in here. He is such a tender soul and I know that we genuinely love him. I love him like I love my own child,” Purdon said.
Dennis makes the store a special stop and Purdon doesn’t mind having him around. He keeps her day lighthearted and fun.
Even the workers around town that do not know him as well enjoy the company.
“He’s so special. He’s like my little buddy and he usually has names for me and everyone else. Sometimes I’m Crabby and sometimes I’m Kid. If he calls you Kid, that’s a really good sign,” Purdon said.
Clayton has become a part of Dennis’ life because of his interest in helping people and reaching out.
“My role is friend and neighbor. Dennis lives in the same neighborhood as my sweetie. Seeing Dennis coming and going in all weather made me reach out. It’s hard to drive by somebody pushing a stroller in pouring rain or snow. That was probably around 2007 or 2008.” Clayton said.
Whether people know him well or not, he has a lasting impact and special place in the lives of those Downtown.
“I’m struggling to define his impact. There are two Dennis’: one who is the cute local celebrity and strange weirdo, who most people accept and pat themselves on the back that such a character is a part of Lawrence. They don’t really know him and are constantly commenting about, ‘thank God you’re there to look after him’. Then there are the people you talked to downtown who work there and are extremely protective. He’s a part of their lives. They know him as a complex person with positive and negative traits and they love him as he is,” Clayton said.
Dennis is known for his cheerful personality and his positivity is admirable by those around him.
“The story of Dennis is fraught with sadness and human frailty, but the joyful part of his story is that he made the life he has for himself by himself. He is a force of nature, of creative energy, human curiosity, and playful silliness. There is no external agency or system that provides him with any support whatsoever. He’s created his own support system through his desire to know people and to be known by them,” Clayton said.
His ability to bring people together and brighten their days is what makes him stand out, even to those new to the area.
“People who have lived in Lawrence for like a month will come in and we’ll ask ‘Do you know Dennis?’ and they will say ‘yeah I know about Dennis’,” Purdon said.
When the afternoon rolls around, Dennis begins to head home leaving the atmosphere brighter than before. The workers and locals can be certain he will return the next day and do the same thing all over again.
Written By: Jessica Winkler & Christina Felix
Photographed By: Renee Haskell