Mike Denny: The Shadow of A Single Man by Delbery Reed

Mike Denny: The Shadow of A Single Man by Delbery Reed


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Former University of Alabama president Dr. George H. “Mike” Denny, who first called the school the “capstone” of the state’s educational system in September 1912 and for whom the school’s iconic Denny Chimes bell tower and football stadium were named, is the subject of a new book by Northport author and journalist Delbert Reed. “Mike Denny: The Shadow of a Single Man,” published by the Paul W. Bryant Museum and released this week, recounts the life of Denny (1870-1955) as an educator beginning with his ten-year tenure as president of Washington and Lee University (1901-1911) but focuses mainly on his quarter of a century as president of the University of Alabama (1912-1936) and another 15 years as chancellor of the Capstone. An introductory book signing is scheduled for Friday, October 21, at the Paul W. Bryant Museum on the University of Alabama campus. “Dr. Denny is clearly the most important individual in University of Alabama history and arguably the most important person in the history of public education in the state,” Reed said. “He came to Alabama from Virginia because he felt a ‘calling’ to help bring economic, social and cultural change to the state through education and his leadership and accomplishments on behalf of his adopted state, as documented in this book, are truly astounding. He worked to develop the state’s public educational system at all levels and to make the University accessible to every qualified student in the state,” Reed said. Denny campaigned for property taxes to support public schools; extended a written invitation to attend the University to every high school graduate in the state during his tenure as president; built campus enrollment from less than 400 in May 1912 to almost 5,000 in September 1936; led the school to athletic prominence by hands-on involvement in the program, and amazingly added 23 major buildings, 22 fraternity houses, 13 sorority houses, a football stadium and Denny Chimes to the campus over 25 years with only $365,000 in financial assistance from the state. “Dr. Denny’s ideals regarding education, truth, duty, leadership and service are still relevant today,” Reed said. “His inspiring words deserve review; his own life of disciplined leadership and service should be studied and emulated, and his work, especially in building the modern University of Alabama, should not be forgotten. My hope is that this book will provide the opportunity for today’s generations to know and appreciate what he stood for and accomplished, and I believe anyone who reads the book will be inspired by Dr. Denny and by several of his former students who are featured in it,” Reed added. One chapter of the book is devoted to leadership roles played by some of Denny’s former students in education, government, civic, civil rights, health care and social welfare programs which have had lasting, national impact. Another chapter is devoted to his legendary involvement with University athletics, especially football, and his role in building the school’s winning tradition. “Dr. Denny was acclaimed as a master communicator, and his words, spoken in numerous impassioned speeches a century ago, remain relevant today and deserve to be made public and studied by today’s students,” Reed added. “Just as his outstanding work should be remembered, his inspiring words should be remembered, too.” An appendix to the book provides excerpts from many of Denny’s speeches as an illustration of his many inspiring messages to various audiences from 1901-1936. Denny’s broad vision for education can be seen in this quote, taken from a speech entitled “Education in the South: Its Difficulties and Its Needs” and given to various audiences: “The untrained mind needs to be taught by the trained mind that individuality of thought and action is alone able to guarantee freedom; that a man can never be free until he thinks for himself, acts for himself and learns to make answer to his own conscience for his conduct; that such independence and individuality of character alone fit a man for the duties of life and their proper performance.” The 326-page hard-book book points out that Denny, nicknamed “Mike” by his students at Washington and Lee University, provided financial assistance to approximately one third of the 30,000 students who attended the University of Alabama during his tenure as president by providing jobs for them and that he continues to help students attend the University even today. Denny earned approximately $250,000 as president and chancellor (1937-53) of the University but funds from his estate and that of last two surviving children provided approximately $1.2 million to establish the Dr. George H. and Jane Denny Scholarship to help needy students attend the University. The book’s foreword was written by former University of Alabama president Dr. Judy Bonner, who supported the project from the start, according to Reed. “As a University graduate, a member of the faculty for 35 years and as president (1912-1915), Dr. Bonner is keenly interested in the school’s history, and Dr. Denny is a large part of that history,” Reed said. “She was the first person to read a draft of the book and played a critical role in getting it into print. I am greatly indebted to her.” Bonner resigned as University president in September 1915 and became provost at Mississippi State University on July 1. Reed added that Ken Gaddy and Brad Green of the Bryant Museum and Kevin Ray and other members of the University’s Hoole Collections staff had also been supportive and helpful during his three years of research and writing of the book. “Mike Denny: The Shadow of a Single Man” is Reed’s third book to be published by the Bryant Museum and his fourth book on University of Alabama subjects. Reed’s previous books include “All of Us Fought the War: The University of Alabama and Its Men and Women in World War II” (2012); “When Winning Was Everything: University of Alabama Football Players in World War II” (2010); “Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant: What Made Him a Winner” (1995), and “Delbert Reed & Friends,” a collection of his favorite newspaper columns 1963-2002. Reed was also a contributing author for “Twelve and Counting,” a book recounting the University’s first 12 national football championship seasons. “I feel honored and fortunate to have now written books about Dr. Denny and Coach Bryant, the two most important figures in modern University of Alabama history,” Reed said. “They were outstanding subjects. Their impact is felt daily across the University campus, the state and the nation and their names are still spoken with reverence. As with all men and women of great and honorable achievement, their words and works should be preserved and studied by other generations and I am proud that I have been able to do that. “This book has a lot to say about a very special, intelligent, dedicated educator and leader whose work and words will surely inspire all who read it,” Reed added. “Anyone who has attended the University of Alabama in the last one hundred years has benefitted directly from Dr. Denny’s work, and they will quickly realize it when they read his story.” Reed, who holds a master’s degree from the University of Alabama, spent 30 years as a writer and editor for The Tuscaloosa News, Nashville Banner, Columbus (MS) Commercial Dispatch and Northport Gazette, serving as sports writer, sports editor, city editor, managing editor and columnist in addition to working in public relations, marketing and management for more than two decades. He has won first-place writing awards in Alabama and Mississippi and both first and second-place national academic writing awards. Reed, who retired in June 2013 after four years as writer in residence at the Paul W. Bryant Museum, began research on the Denny book that month. “The work was sometimes tiring and tedious, but it soon became a labor of love as I learned all that Dr. Denny had done for the University of Alabama and for all the people of Alabama and even the nation,” Reed said. Reed, saying he was personally inspired by Denny’s dedication to education, has donated the book and all royalties to the University of Alabama to establish a Dr. George H. Denny Internship at the Bryant Museum. “One has only to read this book to understand the importance of helping someone get a college education. I think it only fitting that any funds generated by the book about Dr. Denny go to help another student attend the University,” he added.

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