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China Grove man honored for 20 years of service to fire department

CHINA GROVE — With everything going on Saturday in China Grove, you may have missed the diminutive man with the deliberate, plodding walk step forward to accept a service award with the China Grove Fire Department.

Chances are, though, if you’ve lived in China Grove for the past few decades or so, you know Mike Dennis. He’s a fixture at the fire department, and a fixture at Goodman’s Farm Supply just across the street.

His award was for 20 years of service at the fire department, and, as well as anyone can recollect at Goodman’s, he’s been there about that long, too.

“It’s a big day for me,” Mike said on Saturday. “I’m part of the support crew. That’s who I am. I love it.”

At 63, he’s the oldest member of the fire department.

He got started with the fire department by taking pictures at fires. When it became evident he was on the scene riding his 12-speed mountain bike before the crews arrived, he soon began riding with them on the truck.

He doesn’t answer fire calls at night now — “It’s too doggone dangerous,” he says.

When the roller mill was operating, Mike would go and help out with anything that needed to be done. The same at Western Auto.

“He kept the keys to the back door, and when deliveries came, he’d have the truck unloaded by the time the store opened,” says Alan Goodman, who manages Goodman’s with his father, Walter.

Once those two places closed, Mike would come and hang out at Goodman’s, until Alan put him to work one day.

Mike is a floor clerk — an awfully fancy title for Goodman’s, you have to admit.

Alan chuckles.

“Anything we sell off the floor that needs to be loaded in customers’ cars, he loads,” Alan says. “And he talks with people, which he does very well. He’s something else.”

Every morning, Mike brings everything out on the porch, and every afternoon before closing, he takes it back inside. He’s good at routine tasks, Alan says.

“He’s still quite a humble entity who needs to be nurtured,” Alan says. “Oley Parker takes care of his finances, and we try to take care of his daily routine.”

Mike lives by himself, and Alan reminds him to do his laundry and housework.

“He can and he will,” Alan says. “We’ll get him lined up and keep him focused.”

Each summer, Mike spends a week at Lutheridge, the Lutheran church’s camp and conference center, at a week for developmentally disabled adults.

“That’s a lot of fun,” he says, but he knows he has to keep his house cleaned to be able to go. That’s the rule.

“I gotta do some maintenance,” he allows.

Some days Mike walks home for lunch. Other days he’ll go to Gary’s with Alan or Darlene, Alan’s wife. He always sees people he knows at the restaurant, Alan says.

“Everybody knows me,” Mike says, matter-of-factly. “I’m a household name.”

He’s definitely a household name at the fire department, where he can be found most Tuesday nights for training.

“I check in to see what’s going on,” Mike says. “I’ve climbed ladders and been on roofs.”

And when a victim is needed, well, that’s Mike, too.

“Somebody’s gotta be the dummy,” he says. “I don’t mind.”

Mike plans to continue working as long as he’s able.

“I like to be doing something, not sitting idle,” he says.

Walter says Mike’ll have to work ’til he’s 85.

In addition to his work at Goodman’s, Mike has responsibilities at his church, Mount Moriah Lutheran, where he’s been a lifelong member. He’s an usher in June and December. There are extra services the last month of the year, he notes, but they know he’ll be there.

Just this past Sunday, he went to men’s breakfast with Alan at 8:15, then Sunday School at 9:15, church at 10:30 and lunch at 12:15. Alan and Walter tease him about taking naps, but he surely needed one after that.

Mike hears words like “disabled” or “limited,” but doesn’t feel he’s either. He does pretty much what he wants to do, he says.

That includes riding the fire truck in the Christmas parade every year.

“I had on my yellow helmet and I threw out candy,” he says. “I was having a ball.”

Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.

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