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Longtime appraiser sees value of retirement




Take one look at his office, and it's easy to tell Dean Denning is a collector.

But by the end of the month, Denning will gather up his prized possessions he has on display. Denning, 71, is retiring after serving almost 25 years as the Ellis County appraiser.

"I think it will take a couple days," Denning said of clearing out his office in the Ellis County Courthouse.

Denning has on display in one corner a collection of pocket knives. He started out collecting whiskey bottles, but switched to pocket knives.

"After I had about 140 of them, I found out they run you out of the house," Denning said of the whiskey bottles. "Knives, you can collect 140 of those and put them in one row, but they're a lot of fun."

Denning favors Keen Kutter knives, picking them up at antique stores and some garage sales for the last 20 or 30 years, he estimated.

"My grandpa carried a Keen Kutter," Denning said.

Denning is down to approximately 20 whiskey bottles, having sold the others. By one window in his office were whiskey bottles from 1960, representing the donkey for the Democratic Party and an elephant for the Republican party.

On a window sill were miniature replicas of cars and motorcycles Denning either has owned in the past or currently owns. There's also a couple private planes he used to own.

Denning got his pilot's license when he lived in Chanute and worked as a sales manager at a radio station. Eventually, Denning didn't see much chance for advancement at the radio station, so he packed up his family and moved closer to home. He grew up in Trego County and went to high school in Ellis, then graduated from Fort Hays State University in 1965.

Denning moved to Hays and started a new career in the real estate business in 1978, selling mostly commercial policies. He started taking appraiser courses a few years later and found he liked them.

After his company's appraiser moved to another firm, Denning took over the position. In the late 1980s, he was appointed by the court to do a condemnation appraisal. That's where he met then-Ellis County Appraiser Walter Staab.

Staab later told Denning he planned to retire in a few years, and he should look into the job. Denning balked at first; he always had worked independently, without a supervisor.

"Couple years later, I wanted the job," Denning said. "I thought about it enough and got to thinking, 'Why not?' I was 48 years old. ... I said I'm going to give her a shot."

Denning worked for 10 months as deputy appraiser, then took over for Staab when he retired.

And now, Denning is retiring.

"I was planning on going out at 67," Denning said. "When that came up, I knew it was way too early for me, I was just not ready. And, I may not be now. If I was smart, I would stay a few more years." In retirement, Denning said he will keep busy with upkeep on rental housing and storage units he owns.

There will be no more need to unwind after work with a ride on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Denning's wife, Arlene, often would suggest he go for a ride while waiting for dinner to be ready.

"I'd get on that thing, go down to Antonino, catch the blacktop to Ellis, come back in 45 minutes," Denning said. "It just really lets a lot of stress off."

Denning said he appreciated working with the county commissioners through the years. Between Denning and Staab, the county has had two appraisers the last 50 years.

"That's a stable county," Denning said. "I give Ellis County credit for that, because they let us do our job."

But all that's someone else's worry now. Denning will take his motorcycle and ride into the proverbial sunset. He didn't plan on becoming a county appraiser all those many years ago.

"This is the accidental profession," Denning said. "Nobody in middle school says, 'I want to be a county appraiser.' "

* There will be a retirement reception for Denning from 2 to 4 p.m. Friday in the jury room on the second floor of the Ellis County Courthouse.