Dennis' parents - 1939
Meet Dennis Weber … His Family Background
Dennis Weber is the grandson of German immigrants who escaped from Russia a decade before the Communist Revolution and came to settle in the fertile Willamette Valley of Oregon. His dad, John, grew up on farms during the 1920s but in the years before the Great Depression he and his family became migrant farm workers. Eventually settling in Portland, his dad attended Benson Tech before quitting school to help his parents make ends meet. The economy did not turn around until the late 1930s when jobs were made available in the build-up to World War II.
Dennis’ mother Emelia grew up in Portland and graduated from Jefferson High School. Her father was a World War I veteran and ran a shoe repair shop with his father until the Great Depression forced them into bankruptcy. He eventually ran a chicken farm at their home near the Portland Airport. Her mother became a waitress and rose through the ranks of the waitresses’ union to serve on their executive council for many years.
Dennis’s parents married in 1939 and soon both went to work at the Kaiser Shipyards in Portland. The birth of their first daughter was following a few weeks later by the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and America entered World War II. His dad eventually found work at IBM but was drafted into the Navy a few months afterwards. When the war ended in 1945, his dad returned to IBM and in 1947 he was sent to Longview to repair typewriters and time-clocks in local mills and businesses. As IBM grew into the world’s premier computer company, he was trained to maintain each new generation of mainframe equipment.
God and Country Award was one of many earned by Dennis while in Scouting. It was awarded by his church for religious studies and service projects . Dennis became an Eagle Scout, the highest rank in Scouting, in 1967.
Meet Dennis Weber … Growing Up Locally
Dennis was born in Longview in the early 1950s and grew up with three sisters in the post-war neighborhood known as the New West Side within walking distance to Kessler School. His mom was active in the American Red Cross and Longview Women’s Club activities. She volunteered for the Mother’s March of Dimes to fight polio. Dennis and his sisters all learned
to play the violin, attended Spirit Lake Y Camp in the summers, and graduated from both R. A. Long High School and the University of Washington. Dennis is still a member of the Southwest Washington Symphony Orchestra.
The family’s life centered on school, church, scouting and the YMCA (as well as weekly visits to grandparents in Portland). With two older sisters setting the standard for school studies, Dennis enjoyed classes and his teachers. Joining Cub Scouts with his Kessler School buddies, Dennis advanced through the ranks. As a member of his church-sponsored scout troop, he eventually earned the rank of Eagle Scout. Swim lessons at the Y turned into competition on the Y’s swim team. And many weekends from May to September were spent helping his dad volunteer at the Spirit Lake Y Camp.
After graduating from R. A. Long High School, Dennis attended the University of Washington where he majored in Political Science, with teaching minors in history and journalism. After interning in the Washington state Secretary of State’s office following graduation, he returned to Longview and began a 35-year career teaching high school social studies, especially American History and Government. One highlight of his teaching career was that 40 years after speaking at his own high school gradation, the Senior Class of 2010 asked him to speak at their commencement exercises.
Longview Mayor Weber
Meet Dennis Weber … Early Experience in Public Service
Dennis’ interest in government and politics was kindled by his father’s unsuccessful 1957 run for the Longview City Council as a protest candidate against someone many considered too powerful and corrupt (and who years later did spend time in jail). Dennis was also influenced by two regional political leaders: Oregon Governor Mark O. Hatfield and Washington Governor Daniel J. Evans, both known as Republicans willing to work with both sides of the political aisle. Local Republican leaders John Larsen and Herb Hadley (both very strong Evans supporters) encouraged Dennis’ early interest in politics, too.
One local politician who also influenced Dennis was his high school US History teacher, Arlie U. DeJarnatt, who also served in the State Legislature (both in the House of Representatives and later as State Senator). They worked together for a few years as colleagues and enjoyed a good friendship, but Arlie always joked that he never could figure out what went wrong because Dennis became a Republican.
A few years after beginning his teaching career, Dennis was appointed to the county planning commission. In 1979 he was first elected to the Longview City Council and continued on the planning commission until being elected Mayor in 1984. Major accomplishments by the Longview City Council during those years included the rehabilitation of Lake Sacajawea, recovery from the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, the preservation of the Columbia Theater, the development of Seventh Avenue Park, and the rejuvenation of Downtown Longview following the construction of the Three Rivers Mall in Kelso, including the relocation of the Longview Police Department downtown. He stepped down from the council in 1991 after three terms in office.
Celebrating Kris' birthday at the cabin
(Dennis top center, Kris holding her cake)
Grandpa and Emelia
Dennis plays with other violinists in the Southwest Washington Symphony.
Meet Dennis … and His Family
At a 1975 R. A. Long High School faculty meeting, Dennis first met Kris McElroy, a biology teacher. They married in 1977. A honeymoon on the Oregon Coast and in San Francisco, travel to Montana to visit her family, and a summer on staff at the Spirit Lake “Y” Camp punctuated their first year together. They discovered a mutual interest in music during pit orchestra rehearsals for a school play, The Wizard of Oz, where Dennis played violin and Kris played clarinet. They have been members of the Southwest Washington Symphony ever since.
Their daughters were born in the 1980s: twins Kathryn and Sarah, and their younger sister Juliana. Family vacations included visiting friends and family in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, California, Colorado, and Arizona, as well as numerous water parks, Disney attractions, and Washington, DC. They also enjoyed trips to cities where Dennis’ school, city, and Rotary International conventions took them. They also enjoyed many weekends on Long Beach Peninsula where the family shares ownership in a cabin.
The girls all attended Longview Public Schools and graduated from R. A. Long High School where both
parents were teachers. The family hosted several foreign exchange students over the years. And as a result the girls’ interest in foreign travel grew. Since then they have traveled and lived in such exotic places as Vanuatu, Berlin, Munich, Senegal, South Sudan, Myanmar, Taipei, and Australia.
They each met their partners oversees. Kathryn and Michael have recently been posted by the US State
Department to Ethiopia. Sarah and her fiancé Eric are in Southern Africa where she oversees projects for World Vision in nearby Lesotho. Juliana and her husband live in Hamilton, Ontario in Canada with
our first granddaughter Emelia.
Meet Dennis … and His Community Outreach
After leaving the Longview City Council in 1991, Dennis continued his professional growth, earning a M.Ed. from the University of Portland, where his research focused on the needs of alienated youth. He was named the 1993 Washington State James Madison Fellow focusing on the teaching of the Constitution. He later won the Washington Education Association’s Award for Restructuring in Education for developing a curriculum on balancing the federal budget. He also began serving on the negotiating team for the Longview Education Association, serving as union president 2010 – 2012.
Accepting an appointment to the local governing Board of St. John Medical Center in 1991, Dennis spent twelve years involved in restructuring health care in the local area. The first critical decision made was for the hospital to begin hiring physicians, which required a complex culture shift in relationships between doctors and the hospital. The second major decision was to expand St. John to build a parking garage and medical clinic.
Dennis also remained active in the local political scene, continuing participation in the Cowlitz County Republican Party activities, even securing a state nomination for presidential elector in 1992. But in 1997 he won election to the Cowlitz County Board of Freeholders, charged with writing a charter to reform county government. Dennis was chosen as chair of the 21-member group. Unfortunately, voters deemed the charter too complex and turned the proposition down. In 2001 Dennis was convinced to run again for Longview City Council and won another three terms, serving three years as Mayor again, 2006-07, and 2012. During his time as mayor he was instrumental in leading community efforts to drive away an attempt by a white supremacist church from getting established in Longview.
Writing the history of Longview with Karen Dennis and Sue Maxey.
Meet Dennis … the Local History Buff
From the mid-1990s Dennis served on the Board of the Cowlitz Historical Society during efforts to expand the Museum. A frequent contributor to the Cowlitz County Historic Quarterly, Dennis won the John M. McClelland Award from the Washington State Historical Society for his article in its Columbia magazine on how Washington state got its name, based on his research into the 1852 Monticello Convention. His other Quarterly articles features the Chinookan peoples of the Lower Columbia, Cowlitz County as a transportation corridor, city founders R. A. Long (Longview) and Peter Crawford (Kelso), the rise and fall of the Reynolds Metals Company, growing up in Longview in 1950s, and a history of R. A. Long High School.
In 2012 Dennis teamed up with Karen Dennis and Sue Maxey to produce the pictorial history Longview, part of Arcadia Press Images of America. They selected nearly 220 historic photos to tell the story using archives of the Cowlitz County Museum and the Longview Room in the city’s Public Library. He has also been a guest speaker at local civic clubs on many historic subjects include the origins of our Pledge of Allegiance.
Dennis also has collaborated with local history buffs Bill Kasch and Doris Disbrow, s well as the Longview Historic Preservation Commission, the ’23 Club, and Friends of Longview to develop historic appreciation in our area, including walking tour brochures of Downtown Longview and the Civic Center and well as Lake Sacajawea, and a regional driving tour. Most recently, he worked with others on the Longview Historic Railroad Exhibit on Public Library grounds, featuring the restored Shay locomotive and interpretive panels explaining the role of railroads in Longview history, paid for in part by a state Heritage Capital grant.