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The University of Minnesota Duluth

BRIDGE - Fall 2009, Volume 27, #1

Alumni Profiles: The Denney's, A Family Tradition

UMD and the Jumping Denneys

Three generations of Denney family members have attended UMD: (l-r) Jim A. '52; Jim J. '80; Jeff '81; Jon '84; Jimmy '09; Karl, freshman in Fall '09. Joel '86 is missing from the picture. Beverly Orchard Denney, wife, mother, and grandmother, now deceased, graduated from UMD in 1953.
Traditions seem to be a tradition in the Denney family. "We tend to move as a group," said Jim Jay. "Our parents never told us what to do. They had strong beliefs that made sense. They instilled in us the importance of education."

To follow this story, you are going to have to get the names straight. There’s James Albert Denney, or Grandpa Jim. There’s Jim Jay Denney—the Olympic ski jumper, and there’s James Ryan Denney, also a member of the Olympic team, better known as Jimmy. All three have a connection to UMD, along with a host of other family members. Grandpa Jim graduated in 1952, Jim Jay graduated in 1980, and Jimmy is a current student.

It’s hard to say where this story begins. One could pick the ’60s when Grandpa Jim took his four boys, Jim Jay, Jeffery, Jon, and Joel, to the Chester Park ski jump a few blocks from the UMD campus. Or one could start in the ’40s when Grandpa Jim and his dad would walk to Chester Park during the winter. Together in the cold, they’d watch the ski jumping tournaments.

It turned out that Chester Bowl had a larger influence on Denneys. Under the watchful eye of Grandpa Jim, Jim Jay, Jeffery; and Jon excelled at ski jumping. So much so that Jeffrey nearly qualified for the International Olympic Games. Jim Jay did qualify and went on to compete in the 1976 Innsbruck Winter Games where he placed 18th and the 1980 Olympics at Lake Placid where he placed eighth. Jon qualified for the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo.

Fast forward. Jeffrey’s son Jeff, and Jimmy plunged into their own ski jumping careers, enjoying a lot of success nationally and internationally as members of the U.S. Ski Team. Jimmy qualified for the 2006 Olympics in Torino. He has won a number of awards including the Skier of the Year Award in 2003 and 2006 from the United States Ski and Snowboard Association ski jumping program.

Traditions seem to be a tradition in the Denney family. “We tend to move as a group,” said Jim Jay. “Our parents never told us what to do. They had strong beliefs that made sense. They instilled in us the importance of education.” And Jim Jay’s generation instilled those same values in their children.

Education was immensely important to the family. Grandpa Jim graduated from the UMD School of Business and Economics (SBE) with an accounting degree in ’52 and Grandma Beverly Orchard Denney graduated from UMD in 1953. The next generation followed suit when Jim Jay ’80, Jeffrey ’81, Joel ’86 all received accounting degrees from UMD. Jon started at UMD in pre-engineering and finished on the Twin Cities campus. The third generation has now arrived with Jimmy ’09, the first Denney in the new Labovitz School of Business and Economics and his cousin Karl, who started at UMD in Fall 2009.

Jim Jay said that he was able to finish a college degree while on the jumping circuit. “My accounting professor, John Dettman, was very helpful. He made sure, even when I was traveling for the ski team, that I got into the classes I needed.” Jim Jay attended UMD through both the ’76 and the ’80 Olympic competitions. He started in ’75 and graduated with his degree in accounting in Fall 1980.

Speaking of traditions, Grandpa Jim got himself to Lake Placid in an official capacity. He was hired to help administer the games and served as chief of calculations.

The Denneys didn’t always follow a straight line. Jimmy Denney went right into ski jumping after high school. He did take a couple of college classes, primarily online courses offered through UMD, but that changed in 2006. “That June, I was still planning to go back to skiing, but I registered to take some classes,” he said. “I chose UMD because after so many years away, I missed Duluth.” When ski season rolled around that winter, Denney opted to continue his education full-time rather than head for the slopes.

Denney chose accounting because he always liked math in high school. “With a little encouragement from Dad, I decided that’s where I belonged,” he said. The “little encouragement” actually wasn’t that little, as Jim Jay is a partner of McGladrey and past leader of the Duluth office.

In Spring 2009, Jimmy participated in a LSBE accounting internship program nat his father’s firm. That’s when another almost 100 year-old tradition kicked in. And maybe that is where this story really begins. Grandpa Jim’s father worked for the Oliver Mining Company in the historic 1904 Missabe Building. One son after the next overlapped a stint in the Missabe building with the previous generation. Grandpa Jim became an accountant for U.S. Steel, Jim Jay went to work for McGladrey and Jimmy took the McGladrey internship, all working in the Missabe Building.

At his internship, from February to April 2009, Jimmy worked with five other interns in the Tax Processing Center. He prepared individual tax returns. Developing problem solving skills gave Denny confidence. “I often ran into a situation where the answer was not clear,” he said. “Instead of simply asking someone for help right away, I thought through the problem to try and figure it out on my own.”

Jimmy will graduate in December 2009. In summer 2009, he participated in the Pathways career training program with McGladrey in Minneapolis, which has led to a full-time job that starts in January 2010. He also hopes to take the CPA exam in summer 2010.

There is continuity in this story — ski jumping, accounting, and downtown Duluth. And these three, Jim, Jim Jay, and Jimmy all agree on one thing: attending UMD is a good tradition.

— Cheryl Reitan



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