Dennis Alldridge, Special Olympics Wisconsin
IB's Professional of the Week is the premier way to meet the state's professionals. This week features Dennis Alldridge, president/CEO of Special Olympics Wisconsin.
Business Address: 2310 Crossroads Drive, Ste. 1000, Madison, WI 53718
Birthplace: Decatur, Ill.
Spouse/Partner’s Name: Beth
Organizations: National Association of Special Olympics Professionals
Education: B.S., Eastern Illinois University
Dennis, how long have you been with Special Olympics Wisconsin, and what is your day-to-day role in the organization?
I have been blessed to have served for 23 years as the president and CEO. I have always felt my role was to empower my co-workers to reach their goals and to provide them with the tools to be successful. Pretty simple, but it works.
Who has influenced your career the most, and in what way?
My inspiration has and always will be Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the founder of Special Olympics. She had such a profound impact on my life and the direction it has taken. Tireless service to others, especially people with intellectual disabilities. Service over self. I have been part of the Special Olympics movement since 1973 and have witnessed its transformative power.
You’ve been at this a long time, and have lots of memories of the service. What was a career high point?
Any time an athlete climbs on the award stand and receives a medal or ribbon, I can feel a little personal joy that I had a small role in that moment.
What is a long-range goal that you’d like to achieve before leaving Special Olympics?
To educate and inform the public of the scope of the services Special Olympics provides each and every day. Most will be amazed at what we do.
Have you always been interested in a career in social service?
I had a great high school experience and probably knew back then that some career in public service or a helping people industry was in my future.
Okay, going back that far, remember your very first paycheck? From where, how much, and what did you do with it?
It was as a “soda jerk” at Cooney’s Drive-In in Decatur, Ill. I’m not sure exactly how much it was or how I spent the first paycheck, but it probably involved a cheeseburger and orange freeze!
You mention Decatur, your hometown. What brought you to Madison?
This job came open and I had always loved it when my parents traveled to Wisconsin on vacation. I visited Madison in the early ’80s for a meeting and explored State Street. Pretty eye-opening for a small-town boy from Decatur!
What do you do outside work that brings you happiness or relaxation?
Beth also works for Special Olympics, but for Special Olympics, Inc. in D.C., with her office in our home. So we do have a chance to talk work quite a bit. It is a passion for both of us, so a good way to unwind. Spending time with Beth fulfills my happiness. Just the two of us … the best.
However, our home is on the lake and, in the summer, it’s overrun with kids, grandkids, their friends, and their friends, neighbors, cousins, nieces and nephews, and heaven knows – people I don’t even know! Relaxation? Not in the summer. My role is chief cook and bottle washer. And really, how many times in a day is it necessary to go tubing? And how many people will be coming to dinner? Whew! But we enjoy every moment of it and wouldn’t have it any other way.
Maybe it is just me, but my list of “things to do around the house” just gets bigger and bigger. Beth and I do like to share a dinner and good bottle of wine whenever we can.
Lately we have been playing a lot of golf together, which has been enjoyable. And we like to travel. We went to Seattle for the Packers/Seahawks game and met my sister and her husband from Alaska. And yes, it was as bad to see it in person.
You mentioned children. Would you care to elaborate?
Yes. Our youngest son is an officer with the Marines deployed in Afghanistan since January this year. He'll be home in December. His older brother, a captain in the USMC, got out this May after deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. As parents, it is impossible to describe what it is like not to see your kid for seven months or a year at a time. We pray a lot – and I mean a lot. It is unnatural to be apart from your kids for that long. We just long for the day when we can hold him in our arms again. Any parent who has experienced a kid deployed knows what I mean.
You also mentioned travel with Beth. Do you two have a favorite destination?
We both travel so much for work that staying home always sounds pretty good. But last summer we traveled to Greece for the Special Olympics World Summer Games and were just in awe of the beauty of the cities and the islands. We definitely want to go back. But really we like to travel to the towns/cities where the kids live. Kind of sappy, but …
Do you read for pleasure?
I just finished a book by Mark Shriver about his father, Sarge Shriver, called A Good Man, and that he was. I've had the pleasure of interacting with Mr. Shriver over my career, and he is a fascinating man who had an incredible life. I am fortunate to have been able to spend time with him.
Another book I'm reading is The Heart and The Fist. It was written by Eric Greitens, a former Navy Seal, Rhodes Scholar, and founder of an organization called The Mission Continues (TMC). TMC awards community service fellowships to post-9/11 veterans, empowering them to transform their lives by serving others and their communities. If you run a nonprofit, I would encourage you to look into this program. It is the right thing to do for our veterans.
What character in any sport, book, movie, or play would you most like to be identified with, and why?
I don't know where this fits, but I would like to be Jimmy Buffett for a year! I can hear the steel drums calling me now …
Now, for our standard close and last question: Dennis, can you give us three words you think best describe you?
Compassionate, achiever, humble. I have a sign in my office that I see every day. It reads, “It is amazing how much you can accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit.”
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