Dennis Tanner, of Lansing, a longtime Michigan journalist who mentored many reporters, died Monday, Oct. 1, 2012, at Hospice House of Mid-Michigan after a brief illness. The Dimondale resident was 65.
He is survived by his wife Linda Tanner, daughter Amanda Snook, son-in-law Ben Snook and grandson Owen.
Dennis grew up in Detroit and attended De La Salle High School. He was profoundly affected by the premature deaths of his father and later his only sibling, and by his mother’s determination to provide a good life for her sons. He learned early on the value of “being there” for friends and family.
After serving an Army stint in Vietnam and attending Wayne State University’s journalism program, he started his newspaper career at the Macomb Daily and later became editor at the Royal Oak Tribune. He also worked at The Associated Press in Detroit and the Jackson Citizen Patriot as sports editor, and finally landed as news and travel editor at the Booth Newspapers’ Lansing Bureau for 16 years.
As the bureau chief in Lansing during that time, I was technically Dennis’ boss, but he was endowed with much more wisdom and experience – qualities that steadied me both professionally and personally during our 22-year friendship. When there was a crisis or tough decision to be made, Dennis had a knack for rising to the occasion. He could see clearly what needed to be done and would say exactly the right thing.
Co-worker Judy Putnam remembered one such tense moment when a typically quiet staffer was loudly flinging paper and pens in anger off his desk. “It was making a horrendous racket and my jaw dropped,” Judy said. “Dennis walked over with a bemused look and calmly asked if he could help.”
Niece Nancy Norman recalls she was a thrilled teen-ager when Tanner let her drive his riding lawn mower. She ran over a rope that became entangled in its blade. “I was so scared you’d be mad,” she wrote on Facebook. “You came out of the house, breathed that deep sigh of yours, took the rope off from under the mower, looked at me, smiled and just said, ‘Well, keep driving kid.’”
Many young journalists remember him as a fatherly presence who truly cared about their success in life and work.
One of those was Gisgie Davila Gendreau, who worked with Dennis both as a young “Boothie” and later at the Michigan Education Association, from which he retired in 2009.
“He coached me through the early years, pointing out when I had done well, helping me fix things when I hadn’t,” said Gendreau. “He always took the time to listen and to give advice when I needed it.”
His daughter Amanda said her dad taught her many lessons, including one about the importance of writing well. As a college student she sent him an email with a misplaced apostrophe.
“My dad, the editor, noticed my error and gave me a little ribbing in his reply,” Amanda said. “My dad, the mentor, waited for the right time to turn life into a learning experience. That came in 2002, when I accepted my first ‘real’ job: He gifted me his 1977 Associated Press Style Guide. Of course I joked, ‘This was published before I was born, Dad!’ He looked at me and said, ‘Yes, honey, but it will never be acceptable to use an apostrophe in that manner no matter what the year.’”
He cheated death a few times over the years, including last year when he was in a medically induced coma after open heart surgery. His wife Linda said, “This past year was a gift. We had the holidays together, and this summer he barbecued and we went out to dinner with friends. It was a time we shouldn’t have had together, and we knew we were lucky to have it.”
Dennis enjoyed throwing barbecues for friends. He was a disciplined gambler, an OK golfer, an avid follower of horse racing and an enthusiastic traveler by cruise ship, including one he took in 2011 with his father-in-law.
But he loved nothing more than savoring the view with Linda from their home on the Grand River and playing with dogs Baxter and Forest and their three cats. And he took great joy when Amanda and her husband, Ben, brought grandson “Owie” into their lives.
Dennis will be cremated and a private memorial service will be held soon. Donations may be made to Hospice House of Mid-Michigan or Care for the Care Givers, Sparrow Foundation, 1110 E. Michigan Avenue, Lansing MI 48910. Arrangements by the Estes-Leadley Greater Lansing Chapel.