Michael Givens Dendurent Autobiography

Michael Givens Dendurent, born March 12, 1951

My dad, Hod Dendurent, always told people who had trouble pronouncing our last name to remember it this way: "First you pay the grocery bill and den-da-rent."

That always brought a chuckle from the other person (and still does) and I was always proud to have a name that was a little bit different. I was never the only Mike in my class at school, but I was always the only Dendurent. I'll bet most of us in this clan can say that.

My dad and mom spent a good portion of their lives running a small-town weekly newspaper in Wamego, Kansas. I grew up around the paper office and got so much printer's ink on my hands (and clothes) that it eventually seeped into my blood.

So I'm in the newspaper business too -- I'm wire editor of the daily Mercury in Manhattan, Kansas, home of the perennial football powerhouse, Kansas State University.

My wife Joyce is a nurse and annual-yard-sale entrepreneur. Together, we have produced two additions to the Dendurent family: Mandy, born April 23, 1988, and Jeff, born September 25, 1991.

We live with a menagerie of pets in a very nice rural neighborhood called Wam-Teau Estates, three miles west of Wamego on U.S. Highway 24. It seems we all stay very busy with jobs, school, activities and such.

I slightly remember my grandmother Orie Dendurent. I believe she lived with us in Wamego until I was about 3. She walked with crutches as I recall (I think she had broken a hip), and I remember dragging her crutches across the room and "hiding" them in the corner, thinking I was really fooling her (although the crutches were probably in plain sight).

Grandfather Murney Dendurent died before I was born. Dad was about 6 feet tall, and I remember him saying that as an adult he could stand up and hold his arm straight out and his dad (Murney) could walk under it without bending down -- he was that short. There's a photograph of the two of them standing side by side and appearing to be about the same height. But the picture is cropped so that their legs and feet aren't shown. Dad said Murney was standing on a box for the photo.

I also recall my dad saying that Murney used to chase after fire trucks (on foot, I assume) to get in on the excitement. Dad said that one of his most vivid memories was seeing his dad walking home from town with a watermelon on his shoulder for the family to share.

I have always thought it remarkable that Dad and his brother Sam could have attended college during the Depression years. Being from a family of seven children, and in those financially strapped days, things must have been very tough for them money-wise. I've always considered the two of them very courageous for their effort to advance their education during very trying times.

But Dad was a picture of courage in many ways. After college, he ran a newspaper in the small southwest Kansas town of Johnson. He told me that during the duststorms there in the thirties, he would go to work in the morning and have to shovel dirt from in front of the door of the newspaper office in order to get inside. I have thought those must have been very lonely, difficult days.

In 1963, Dad suffered a severe stroke, and some of you may remember the courage he showed at that time. The stroke left Dad unable to walk, talk, eat or write the way he previously did. He essentially re-taught himself to do these things as the months passed after his stroke. I remember coming home and seeing Dad haltingly walking around the living room, pushing a chair in front of himself for support, as he learned to walk again.

At the time of his death, nearly 20 years later, he was able to walk all over town, a slight limp being the only noticeable remaining sign of his debilitation.

I think this courage was a trait in Murney Dendurent's family. Certainly it took a lot of courage for Murney and Orie to move their large family across Kansas from Robinson to Goodland, and for Murney to begin operating his own business. Orie showed courage in raising seven children and in pressing on after losing one, little Alma, so tragically.

Through the years, I saw other members of the family (I'm thinking now of Kenny and Mary, whom I knew better that the other children) show courage in the face of illness or sadness.

During her later California years, Mary often wrote to Dad and Mom (and after Dad's death, to Mom). Her distinctively handwritten letters were unfailingly upbeat and pleasant -- almost as if she was enclosing some California sunshine in the envelopes along with her missive. Yet I know Mary must have known many hours of loneliness there in her small house in Whittier after the death of her husband and son.

Mary followed what seems to be an unspoken credo in the Dendurent family: Make the best of whatever happens or, as Ann Landers advises, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

Mary would often enclose cute little clippings and other interesting items in her correspondence. My dad, too, loved to leave funny notes and circled items in the morning paper on the breakfast table for me during my growing-up years.

It's my belief that, growing up in a large family with minimal money, the Dendurent kids learned to appreciate the little things, the things that didn't cost much ... or anything at all. I remember a vacation trip Dad, Mom, and I took to New York (it when I was 12). One day as we walked down the street, Dad stopped and stood in awe for some time watching construction work on a skyscraper as Mom and I prodded him to keep moving along to more expensive exploits.

One of my fondest boyhood memories is of sitting one evening on the big front porch of Dad and Mom's house in Wamego and telling jokes with Kenny and Dave Dendurent, who were visiting us. Actually, Kenny and Dave told most of the jokes. I loved hearing them tell the stories, one after another as twilight fell.

Again, it was the Dendurents enjoying the little things: fellowship, fresh air, a nice evening, a good laugh.

I hope that I to some extent inherited these Dendurent traits that I admire.

That really must have been quite a household at Murney and Orie Dendurent's place, don't you think? All those kids, all that commotion ... all that love. Quite a household indeed.

How in the world did they ever manage to pay the grocery bill ... and den-da-rent?

Mike Dendurent, May 1999.