Written by Joan Raymond
If you’ve ever attended our Winter Dinner or WOK Honors, you’ll recognize the name and face of Dennis VanderWerff. A member since 2011, Dennis has been invaluable to our club serving as Webmaster, Treasurer, Vice-President, Young Writers of Kern (YWOK) Coordinator, Fall Writing Contest Chair, Peggy Connelly Scholarship Committee Chair, and Master of Ceremonies of WOK Honors.
In 2015, Dennis was recognized for his service to our club when he was unanimously nominated by the WOK Board as the Jack London award recipient. The Jack London award is given to one member each branch of the California Writer Club (CWC) every other year. The award honors a member whose service to the CWC and/or a branch is exemplary. The merit of the award is in the service, independent of writing accomplishments.
I’ve known Dennis since 2011, when we met at a WOK meeting. He joined our club because he was interested in writing and wanted to be around other writers. After he joined, he became a member of the Classics Critique Group (one of the original critique groups formed). I got to know him better when we served on the Board together, and since then we’ve become good friends.
A bit of background on Dennis. He earned a BA in French, and an MLS and PhD in Library Science. Among a long list of professional accomplishments, he taught at the college level, was a corporate librarian, a library director at Cerro Coso College in Ridgecrest, catalogued special collections at the Pasadena Public Library, and worked at the Getty Research Library as Head of Monograph including rare book cataloging.
Though proud of his work with books, Dennis said his most notable accomplishment has come from his genealogy research. For years of researching he struggled to find his maternal grandfather. After studying genetic genealogy and taking DNA tests, a half-first cousin showed up and Dennis was able to identify his paternal grandfather. Dennis is currently assembling a portfolio of genealogical research products for submission to the Board of Certification of Genealogists to become a Certified Genealogist. He regularly attends genealogical research institutes in Salt Lake City, Pittsburg, and Athens, Georgia. He’s been able to apply what he’s learned to help others by facilitating workshops for the Levan Institute for Lifelong Learning through Bakersfield College, helping students discover their own family trees.
Along with his interests in research, Dennis writes personal essays and memoirs. He is an avid journal keeper, writing daily. Dennis suggests everyone, especially writers, should keep a journal because “there’s no holds barred. It’s authentic…and tells the truth.” He says, “Journaling gives clarity. Maybe not at that moment, but one gains incredible insight.” After reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, he took the information to heart and began writing Morning Pages (journaling three pages first thing each morning). After years of filling journals, Dennis is now using Day One, a software application to transfer his written words into digital form which allows him to save and catalog them. When changed into digital form, he is able to edit into full thoughts, though Dennis noted that he still prefers writing with pen and notebook, because he feels what comes out is more “gut wrenching” due to his stream-of-conscious writing process.
Another of Dennis’ passions is reading. He calls himself a “Biography Freak,” reading everything from work by David McCullough to work from Revolutionary and Constitution period, political biographies, and books addressing social problems. One of his favorite authors is poet, Walt Whitman. When asked about a favorite Whitman quote, Dennis shared, “To me the converging objects of the universe perpetually flow, All are written to me, and I must get what the writing means” (Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass: 1855) “Journaling,” says Dennis, “provides a ‘perpetual’ flow of ideas. As a writer, it is my job to ‘get’ what the writing means.”
When chatting with Dennis, you immediately know his interests are diverse. From journaling, to reading, to family research he enjoys sharing his vast knowledge in a way that is peer-to-peer, not professor to student. He’s engaging, yet humble. I am honored to be one of his friends.