Jonathan Fairbanks and Clyde Edwin Tuck

Past and Present of Greene County, Missouri

Early and Recent History and Genealogical Records
of Many of the Representative Citizens


WILLIAM ALFRED DENNIS. It is the dictate of our nature no less than of enlightened social policy to honor the illustrious dead; to bedew with affectionate tears the silent urn of departed genius and virtue; to unburden the fullness of the surcharged heart in eulogium upon deceased benefactors, and to rehearse their noble deeds for the benefit of those who may come after us. It has been the commendable custom of all ages and all nations. Hence the following feeble tribute to one of nature's noblemen.

William Alfred Dennis, for many years one of the most prominent men of affairs and esteemed citizens of Springfield, Missouri, was born in Des Moines, Iowa, April 8, 1857. He was a son of Thomas Dennis and Caroline (Miller) Dennis. The father was born near Paris, France, where he grew to manhood, was educated and spent his earlier years, immigrating to America about 1850, and engaged in business in Chicago. He was a prosperous business man and at one time owned a line of steamboats on the Mississippi river. He was a man of admirable qualities and had the highest conception of honor, his name being a synonym for honesty in the locality where he resided, and it was not uncommon to bear the expression, "as honest as Thomas Dennis," and his son, William A., of this sketch, was not unlike his father in his original and witty comments, his deep sense of justice, his fair dealings, his tender, kindly and generous heart. The elder Dennis moved his family to Des Moines, Iowa, where he lived for some time, later removing to Paola., Kansas, where he spent the rest of his life, dying about 1896. Religiously he was a Methodist. His wife, Caroline Miller, was born in Rudolstadt, Germany, in 1834, was the daughter of a physician, and was a woman of culture and finished education. She was an accomplished linguist and was a teacher of German in a school for young ladies in Chicago at the time of her marriage. She is now living in Paola, Kansas, and although advanced in years is active in life, takes much interest in the work of the Methodist church of which she is a member, and is teaching the infant class in Sunday school.

William A. Dennis was an infant when his parents removed with him to Paola, Kansas, and there he grew to manhood and received his education, experiencing the varying and often perplexing vicissitudes of the conditions in the early days in the Sunflower state. But he was a resourceful lad and he believed that "Man is his own star; and the soul that can render an honest and, a perfect man, commands all light, all influence, all fate; nothing to him falls too early or too late." Even as a boy he wished to construct, experiment, dig for information and do things. With the first money he earned, when but ten years of age and with the generosity and desire to make some one happy, which was the most marked characteristic of his kindly nature, he spent the entire amount in the purchase of a large Bible for his mother. Misplaced confidence in the honesty of men brought about financial reversion in the family, and at the age of fifteen years, young Dennis began to rely upon his own resources and educated himself by working at night and attending school in the day time. "Improve each precious moment" was ever his motto as a boy, and he was always reading, studying, reaching out for more knowledge. He found time to study telegraphy at night, made himself proficient in the same, and his first position was that of telegraph operator, at a small station, as relief man for the old Fort Scott & Memphis Railroad Company. Subsequently he was agent for this company at Joplin, Missouri, which position he held for nine years. He then went to Carthage as agent for the Missouri Pacific railroad, but a year later went to Memphis, Tennessee, and for a year held the position as traveling passenger agent for the Fort Scott & Memphis railroad, his headquarters at that time being at Bloomington, Illinois. He then took the general agency for that company at Springfield, Missouri, in which position he remained but a short time, retiring in 1889. In all these employments he acquitted himself well and to the satisfaction of his employers. But railroad work was only a part of his versatile business capacity. He could originate and carry out extensive enterprises, and was by nature an organizer and promoter, a man of keen business discernment and sound judgment, and he was at different times in real estate, lumber and railroad construction work, engaging in the first named for a period of six years, and for some time he was in charge of the department of ways and maintenance for the Frisco system. The latter years of his life were devoted to railroad construction pursuits, and while it proved profitable, the exposure to which it subjected him and the harassment and anxiety incident to dealing with large numbers of men which were in his service essentially affected his health. He was ever an industrious, faithful and enterprising man and his untimely death was largely due to over application to business.

Mr. Dennis was married about twenty years ago to Mary Alice Maurer, of Springfield, Missouri, a lady of much executive ability and genial address, and she is still living in the attractive Dennis home in this city, and is managing the large property interests left by her late husband in a commendable manner. She was devoted to his interests and her sympathy and counsel were of great benefit to him in his life work.

At the age of forty years, Mr. Dennis, in the midst of strenuous business activities, found time to begin the study of law, at night, passed the necessary examinations and was admitted to the bar, not with the intention of practicing law, but merely with a desire to be better qualified for his business pursuits, and at the time of his death he owned the largest law library in the state outside of St. Louis and Kansas City. This splendid library is now owned by the Springfield court of appeals. Had he entered into the practice of his profession he would have doubtless become one of the brilliant legal lights of Missouri. He was a Mason of high degree, and belonged to the Ancient Arabic Order of Nobles of the Mystic Shrine at Kansas City. He was also a Knight Templar of Joplin, Missouri. He was also a prominent member of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks at Springfield. He was a worthy member of the Methodist church. He took an abiding interest in public affairs, but was not a seeker after public office, preferring to devote his time to his home and his private business affairs. He deserved a great deal of credit for what he accomplished, unaided and in the face of obstacles that would have discouraged men of less heroic mettle. He never received assistance in a financial way from any one. He was a man of broad charity, always gave the other fellow who failed another chance, and many owe their success in life to his encouragement and assistance. He was never too busy to listen to the tales of misfortune related by those less fortunate than himself. He not only listened with a heart full of sympathy, but he always provided some means of relief. Distress, sorrow and misfortune he could not pass by without lending a generous hand. He was ever the champion of the weak, and was a lover and protector of dumb animals.

William A. Dennis was summoned to close his eyes on earthly scenes and take up his work on a higher plane of endeavor February 29, 1904 not yet forty-seven years of age, when in the very zenith of his prime and when life promised most.

The following just estimate of this splendid and lamented citizen's worth is part of an editorial which appeared in the Springfield Republican shortly after his death:

"His character was extremely generous. To grant favors and to show kindness to those about him was ever his delight. He possessed a tender heart, was a lover of children and easily won their love in return, a good neighbor, a public-spirited citizen, simple and unaffected in his tastes and manners, devoted to his home and family, finding sufficient and perfect happiness therein. Ambitious to succeed in life and always busy at projects looking to that end, he was a most affectionate husband, brother and friend, and has left an abiding sorrow, through his untimely death, among those who knew him best."

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