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Herb and Elizabeth Denniss: A Fierce Commitment to Education

Exemplary Public Servants–and So Much More

Elizabeth and Herb DennissSpringfield, Illinois, is better off for having Herb and Elizabeth Denniss.

Before retiring, Herb served Springfield as a police officer for many years, rising to the rank of assistant deputy chief.

As a nurse, Elizabeth served primarily in intensive care and emergency departments before retiring, touching the lives of Springfield residents at the moments of their most urgent needs.

As valuable as their service to Springfield has been, however, it doesn’t begin to communicate the joy they find in life and the happiness they share with anyone lucky enough to spend time with them.

Their generosity now extends to UIS through a gift in their wills.

Elizabeth’s Asian Heritage

Elizabeth Denniss  lived in Japan until she was eight. When she came to the States, she retained an important element of her Asian heritage: a fierce commitment to education.

“Education,” Elizabeth says, “is very important in Japan, and families make sure that children are aware of how important it is.”

Impressive List of Degrees

Reflecting this commitment, Elizabeth has collected an impressive list of degrees:

  • an LPN earned in Michigan at Lake Superior State College,
  • an RN at Lincoln Land Community College,
  • a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) at UIS (then Sangamon State), and not one but
  • two master’s degrees from U of I Chicago’s nursing program in Peoria—one in Community Health Nursing and another in the Family Nurse Practitioner program. 

Herb’s Own Commitment to Education

Her husband, Herb, also values education. “I would tell young people anywhere to get an education,” he says. “I always felt short-sheeted because I didn’t go to college.”

Instead he supported Elizabeth through her later challenging degrees and would have been happy to see her to continue through her doctorate. 

Elizabeth’s Career in Springfield

Although health concerns halted Elizabeth’s academic advances, she lays claim, along with Sandy Hudgins-Brewer, to being Springfield’s first Family Nurse Practitioners, and was able to fulfill a long-held dream of teaching though not to nurses. Elizabeth taught basic clinical skills to third-year students at the SIU medical school. 

She recently retired as a Family Nurse Practitioner from Emergency Consultants, Inc. in the Emergency Department at St. John’s Hospital.

Three Endowments

Because Elizabeth and Herb have no children, when it came time to plan their will, they decided to include charitable bequests.

“Whatever you want is fine,” Herb told Elizabeth, and with her passion for education, Elizabeth proposed giving to schools.

The couple’s wills now include endowments for three institutions in their will:

  • UIS for Japanese studies,
  • Lincoln Land Community College, and
  • the University of Illinois College of Nursing at the Peoria campus.. 

Their gift to UIS will support students who want to learn more about Japan, including going to Japan to study.

Changing Students’ Lives

“Before we got married,” Elizabeth says, “I always had to work fulltime when I went to school. I remember studying until one or two in the morning, getting up to go to school before going to work, and Hakata Dollsthen staying up again. I would hope that our gift would help a student do some of the extra things available to them, especially related to Japanese culture.

Traditional Japanese Art at UIS

The Dennisses have also bequeathed their collection of Hakata dolls, beautiful clay figurines that depict Japanese life.  As you can see from the cabinet at right, their collection is quite impressive. The lower pictures shows a pair of Elizabeth’s favorites in close up.

Hakata dollElizabeth hopes the dolls will introduce students to traditional Japanese art, and interest them in going to Japan.

“The Japanese and American cultures are so different,” she says, “and I would like students to see the differences but that we are actually very similar as human beings in so many ways.” 

What a wonderful legacy to create at UIS!


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