One of my first memory of Dennis Heide came early in my relationship with Erin. While we were a-courting, I came to Omaha to meet with the entire O’Connor clan. We went to a dinner party at uncle Shannon and aunt Michele’s house and, while we were there, we sat with Dennis and he engaged us in conversation for a good fifteen minutes. I did not, for one moment, have cause to wonder, where everybody else in the house had disappeared to (and there were at least a dozen people there), until the surprise was sprung.
Erin and I were taken out to the deck and presented with an elaborate gift arrangement celebrating our engagement, complete with poetry and props. It had taken some time to set up, and that’s when it became clear what Dennis’ job had been. He’d been the distraction, and played the part like a natural.
For me, Dennis was always at ease. He was jovial, intelligent and comfortable with himself. He made others feel comfortable around him. This wasn’t to say that he didn’t have steel. He most recently worked as a child support payment enforcement officer. He worked at Boys Town. He raised a lovely daughter, Nicole. But he carried himself off with a calm, jovial manner that belied that strength; or, more likely, existed because of it.
Dennis also had a mischievous sense of humour. Erin tells me of of a time when the family returned to Vermillion and stayed at Grandpa and Grandma O’Connor’s big house. The tradition was that the whole family would get up and go to Catholic mass at nine. Dennis would put a sign up on his guest bedroom door which read “Lutheran. Do Not Disturb.”
He went to mass anyway.
Dennis Heide married into the O’Connor clan, after growing up in the small town of Denison, Iowa. He was a kind, capable man, loved and respected by all who knew him. To Erin, he was uncle Dennis, a big part of the closely knit extended family that Erin grew up with back in Omaha — a family I had the privilege of visiting, then joining, over Christmases, fourth of Julys, many weddings and one funeral, over the past decade or so.
And three months ago, after months of seeing doctors and going into hospitals to investigate mysterious bone pain, uncle Dennis was diagnosed with late stage esophageal cancer, which had already metastasized. He underwent treatment, and fought the disease until near the end, but he died last night in hospice, surrounded by his family. He was only sixty.
He leaves behind a loving wife, daughter and son-in-law, brothers and sisters-in-law, nephews and nieces, and a lot of people who are sad to see him go.