If you think you’re busy, check out Dwight Willis’ calendar for a day and whew, you will be overwhelmed. You are sitting down compared to this dynamo who has only lived here in Lowry for two years. What keeps this Energizer bunny going? “I wake up every morning and for a few minutes I wait to make sure I am alive. At my age I believe each day is a gift from God. I open the gift very carefully and then try to use that gift to make a difference.” Then he’s off and running. Well, he does stop – to pick up trash daily on the east side of Lowry.
“It’s easy,” he says describing his day. “By picking up trash I accomplish two of my daily goals. I make the neighborhood look better and I get in some steps (his goal is 7,500 to 10,000 steps per day). Along the way, I get the added bonus of meeting and getting to know my neighbors.” For Dwight and Becky, being out and about is normal. Both were born in Danville, Virginia. They were high school sweethearts and married early. In 1973, Dwight began teaching in his alma mater. Dwight was always very active in the community and did not like some of the things he was seeing happening in his hometown. In 1976, he decided to run for city council. He was only 23 years old but made an amazing showing (he lost). In 1978, he ran again and was elected as a member of the city council at 25, the youngest person ever to be elected to that office. He served in that capacity for eight years. There was no holding him back.
The couple were happily ensconced in Danville, the last capital of the Confederacy (you learn a lot listening to him!) raising their son, Eric and working in the community. With Dwight’s usual energy, he gave 100% to his students, “I genuinely cared about the welfare of my students,” and helped his students realize their potential. “We need to bloom where we are planted,” he says of youth as well as adults. He worked diligently in the Danville school system for 30 years.
After retiring in Virginia, Dwight and Becky moved to Holden Beach, North Carolina, which Dwight described as “paradise.” They honeymooned at Holden Beach and always dreamed of living on the island. Both Dwight and Becky worked in the Brunswick County Schools for the first eleven years then Dwight retired in 2014 after 41 years in public education, 20 as a classroom teacher and 21 as an administrator. They intended to live out the rest of their lives in Holden Beach until COVID hit in 2020 and they could not visit their grandsons in Colorado easily.
“In August of 2020 we decided to drive to Colorado to see our kids and grandkids – 1,875 miles. We rented an Airbnb and stayed for six weeks. We realized how valuable our time with them was–especially while they are young. We had missed nine months seeing them during the pandemic, so we resolved to be there while they were young.” In December 2020, they decided to sell their home in Holden Beach and move west. They moved to Lowry which was the perfect distance from their kids who live in Park Hill. He and Becky pick up their two grandsons three afternoons a week and enjoy their time with them. Both parents work in the legal field and appreciate having doting grandparents on hand.
Settling into Lowry gave Dwight one community and his new church Arise Church Denver (21st and Central Park in Hangar 61) gave him another community in which to find his niche. Dwight says that “Arise Church is not perfect (as no church is) but it is perfect for them. ”The Lowry community and his community-minded church helped them to quickly enter the world of volunteering. From providing “homeless bags” to those living on the street to collecting toiletries and cleaning products for families in need there is always something to do to serve the underserved. Dwight has had to learn about the various social services, medical services, how to enroll kids in school, how to get bus passes, how to find bus routes, and how to fill out all sorts of forms for new immigrants.
Given his energy for work and interest in helping people, Dwight engages with people quickly. “Because we are familiar with the system and are English speaking,” Dwight says, “We can navigate the Denver systems faster than a displaced refugee trying to find meals and housing.” Everywhere he turned he found someone he could help. Within months, he had names, locations, and contacts in many social service agencies. Arise Church Denver sponsors two refugee families, from Sudan and Myanmar and Dwight directs the program that helps these families. Among other things, a part of his responsibility in the role is to follow up with his families and make sure they don’t fall through any of the cracks in the system.
With regarding his trash eradication passion, Dwight met with Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer to solicit her help to obtain garbage containers for placement along the streets in Lowry. Whenever they are available, you’ll see Dwight’s grandsons with their own “grabbers” and trash bags picking up litter.” He is working to solicit others to adopt a block in their neighborhood to help to make the streets in Lowry more presentable.
Through Arise Church Denver, Dwight helps with dinner service at the Denver Rescue Mission – The Crossing – three nights a month. Dwight also serves as a mentor for two men at The Crossing. In his role at Arise Church Denver, he has met with the Mayor’s Office about Emergency Migrant Plans for Denver when migrants arrive unexpectedly in Denver to provide immediate temporary shelter. This summer he and Becky will lead a team from the church to Ciudad Guzman (two hours south of Guadalajara) and will help provide Vacation Bible School for 200 children. During the state legislative session, he serves as a member of the Colorado AARP Advocacy team working on legislation affecting Coloradans 50 and older. He had worked with AARP in North Carolina in this capacity and believes in the importance of this work. Working with Denny Head on Silver Ropes through the Lowry Foundation, he has helped with the Salvation Army, Food Bank of the Rockies, and Mercy Housing.
In addition to working alongside Dwight on some of his projects, Becky substitute teaches at their grandsons’ school, Odyssey School. In Holden Beach, she was an active member of the Holden Beach Beautification Committee and uses her gardening skills at their garden space with Denver Urban Gardens (DUG) at the Lowry Garden. Because her favorite “job” has been being grandmother to their grandsons, she uses that love for children in her duties at Elevate Kids, the children’s ministry at Arise Church.
When asked how they have adjusted to life in Lowry Dwight said, “We really like Lowry and have super neighbors here who have helped us find more opportunities to serve others. We can be busy all the time on various projects. I meet new people daily and new people mean new opportunities.” Dwight discovered the ROMEOs (Retired Old Men Eating Out) and enjoys their Wednesday morning problem solving/world changing, intellectual attempts to save the world.
Dwight and Becky Willis are a great addition to Lowry in only two years. But it’s not all work. They travel frequently both domestically and internationally and have already visited 25 of the 45 state parks in Colorado since they arrived.
The Willises leave the rest of us in their dust – but their message is this: no one is going to find us in our homes. We need to start with our block, meet the neighbors and then broaden out. You may not want to pick up trash, but get to The Schlessman Library and find out what opportunities are out there. Check out the Lowry United Neighborhoods newsletter and Silver Ropes opportunities on The Lowry Foundation site. All of us can volunteer some of our skills to help make Lowry a great place to live. Let’s show Dwight what we can do.
Meet Your Lowry Neighbors is a monthly feature written by our intrepid reporter Sally Kurtzman, who knows everyone in our community. If you have a suggestion for a Meet Your Lowry Neighbor, please send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.