Dennis Shead … Thankful and Blessed

Brandywine YMCA member Dennis Shead sits near the indoor therapy pool.

Dennis Shead is 70 years old and suffers from COPD, but you won’t hear that from him. He doesn’t like to talk about what ails him, he will only say, “I am thankful and I am very blessed.”

His positive attitude makes him quite popular at the Brandywine YMCA, where he has been a regular for a little over a year.

Getting Healthier and Making Friends

Dennis came to the Y last year because his doctor insisted he get some exercise to help him with his condition. “I was medically challenged,” he declares.
He decided to try the Aqua Fit class, but soon discovered the pool was too cold for him. “So Dennis did his first workout on the deck holding onto a pole,” chuckles Maureen Collins, fitness instructor for the class at the Brandywine YMCA. She subsequently directed him to the nearby therapy pool which is much warmer and he would still be able to participate in her class if he chose.

“He was such a quiet man when he first came here,” Maureen recalls. “And now he has so many friends. He is always smiling and laughing.”
He goes to the Y regularly, and for longer periods than his doctor recommended. “The working out definitely helps!” he says. But it is the camaraderie that he appreciates the most. “The staff here is tremendous and because I come in every day I get to know more people and they know me,” Dennis says with a smile. “My talent now is talking to people. Sharing the word. Some people ask me to pray for them and some pray with me. All it takes is a smile and a prayer. The more I see and know them, the more a friendship develops.” 

In fact, some are comfortable enough to ask him for gifts.

Sharing His Talents

Gifts? Yes, Dennis knits and crochets. He volunteers his time at the Coatesville Area Senior Center on Monday afternoons teaching a class on knitting and crocheting. He knits and crochets hats and scarfs and can crochet a bottle holder in 20 minutes! He smiles again as he says, “my big project last year was knitting American Flags.” He made 13 of them for the grandkids (eight grandkids and two great-grandkids) and some veterans, including his brother. But Dennis won’t be doing that again, because he says, “it was too much work!”

If you are wondering how a retired welder picked up a knitting and crocheting hobby, you wouldn’t be the first. He learned to do it about 47 years ago when his wife, Irene, was pregnant with their first child. They lived in Philadelphia and she wanted to make a nice blanket for the baby but didn’t know how to knit or crochet. Irene directed him to check out the little shops around town to try to pick up how to do it and come back and teach her. Dennis did as directed, but he adds with a laugh, “she never did get very good at it, although I did.”

Caring For Others

After 32 years of welding, he hung up his blow torch and went in a completely different direction with his life. It was about that time he discovered he had black lung disease, so he went into nursing part time to learn more about it and help others, and he soon became a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA).

He worked as a CNA for seven years before moving to a full-time position at Brian’s House, a home for children and adults with profound disabilities. Dennis loved the job. “It was very challenging, but what a blessing, so rewarding,” he recalls.

Dennis’ nursing skills came in handy when his wife Irene was diagnosed with liver cancer three and a half years ago. “She had it for 103 days and I was there for all of it,” he says. He spent his time caring for the love of his life and wouldn’t have it any other way. He met her when he was 18 years old; they worked together for four years and he only had eyes for her! “She passed away just before Christmas three years ago,” Dennis shares. “We were married for 45 years.” He pauses and adds, “I know I will see her again one day.”

Family First

Dennis has been retired for two years now, making friends everywhere he goes, but “there is nothing more important than family,” he says emphatically. The father of three sees his children and grandchildren all the time … maybe because he is a good cook as well. “I never get my leftovers, the kids are over all the time and they always take them,” he says with a grin.

Dennis knows the Y has helped him to better manage his disease and says “I have never felt better! Smiling, he acknowledges that he does not know what the future will hold, but as long as he is feeling good he will be here “as long as the good Lord allows; using me whatever way He chooses. I am very thankful, very blessed.”  

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