Editor's note: Each week reporter Matthew Guerry shares the life stories of residents of Minnesota or the Dakotas who have died recently. Maybe you don't know them, but their stories are worth knowing. If you have a suggestion for someone to be featured, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 651-321-4314.
Denny Becker is remembered by those close with him as a man who was most comfortable with a shovel in his hands.
To the former priest, faith and community building seemed to be inextricably linked. Even in retirement, he continued his aid work — pouring concrete for a community center in Thailand and helping to raise a clinic in Kenya, and so on.
Eager to lend a hand, he was also willing to lend his voice. In life, Becker was well-known for his outspokenness on many social and cultural issues, even those that were taboo or about which the Catholic Church held opposing views.
Civil rights, access to birth control, ecumenism, climate change — Becker would take a stand on, and connect the Scriptures to, each of these and more.
"I’d say Denny and I were ahead of our times," said Myron Helget, a friend of Becker’s who worked with him as a fellow former priest.
Dennis Edwin "Denny" Becker died of a heart attack Monday, Feb. 8, at his Garfield, Minn., home. He was 86.
The youngest of five children, he was born to Peter and Amelia Becker on Jan. 2, 1935, in Lynd, Minn.
It's possible that his zest for manual labor was an inherited trait. After losing the family farm during the Great Depression, his father kept the family afloat through employment with the Works Progress Administration, the New Deal-era public works agency.
- To pay for college, Jack Morris became a roadie in the '50s for the famous 'Hormel Girls' Spam troupe
- Bus driver Sandy Hary, 68, saw the country from behind the wheel
Perhaps because his own family endured hardship when he was young, Becker was said to be an ardent advocate for the poor in his time in the priesthood, to which the St. Paul Seminary graduate was ordained in 1962.
Becker’s aspiration to build inroads between Christian denominations was similarly longstanding. While serving in Cottonwood, Minn., he told a reporter in 1970 that he was "born ecumenical," meaning to promote unity among various Christian denominations.
He was in the headlines at the time for offering up his outreach to the family of a Lutheran minister bound for Cottonwood with no place to stay. A new parsonage had to be built for the family and, while they waited for it to be completed, Becker let them stay in his own church’s rectory and moved himself into the spare room of a Lutheran couple in town.
It would not be the last time that Becker’s convictions would put him at the center of statewide attention. Not long after extending hospitality to his Lutheran counterpart in town, Becker ran for and won the office of the mayor of Cottonwood. Though that initially caused controversy among some of the leaders of the Catholic Church in Minnesota at the time, they ultimately decided not to punish him, according to his obituary.
In his single term as mayor (he never ran for reelection), Becker helped oversee the procurement of a $766,100 Department of Housing and Urban Development contract to build thirty housing units for older people in Cottonwood.
Becker eventually retired from the priesthood at the age of 65 in 2000, and spent the years afterward travelling and volunteering with his life partner, Marilyn Tisserand, who shared his gregariousness.
"We both loved traveling, and we both loved meeting people," Tisserand said in a recent interview.
Becker was preceded in death by his sisters Irene Weidauer and Esther Andries. He is survived by his sister Vi Suedbeck and his brother Gene Becker, as well as their spouses, by nieces and nephews, and by Tisserand and her children.