A few months ago, I met Dennis on the sidewalk during Rib Fest in downtown Berlin, Ohio. He donned a large apron filled with balloons and a funny-looking hat. (Quite the fascinating-looking fella.) I saw the trimmings of a story. I got a few photos and a short video and then followed up later by email. This is what I discovered.
Dennis Regling had it all—money, status, position, and the white collar lifestyle.
Well, he thought he had it all.
He owned a food distribution company with warehouses in five states. He achieved the success he had been seeking but once he arrived he came up empty. Disillusioned.
He wanted out.
He cabbaged enough guts to leave the rat race, as he called it. He left in pursuit of a new direction. A slower one.
Dennis decided he would focus more on others and less on acquiring material goods.
He began reaching out to the incarcerated in prisons and juvenile detention centers, and also began speaking in churches.
Initially, on his “journey out”, he made his living working on a house-framing construction crew building houses. And later building rafters and pallets.
He felt a newfound freedom when he discovered humility.
It was a special humility that came as he began working with his hands. He was not humiliated, but felt a deeper purpose as he went downward and made tactile contact with his building materials and began creating tangibles.
It was a big adjustment from the high pressure of corporate management to working with his hands.
As his story unravels, it is the humility he learned that has enabled him to to become a successful entertainer.
Dennis lives smack dab in a Mennonite community in Ohio. He credits the Mennonite people for teaching him how to build with his hands, as well teaching him the Bible and the value of loving others.
He considers his relationships and friendships with the Mennonites as his most valuable asset. It was the Mennonites who enabled him to bridge the gap from the life he lived and disliked to the life he longed for.
One with meaning and purpose. A slower life.
Part of his learning experience when he left he corporate world after selling his business was living on his property in a four-person tent for six months. (He actually slept in his station wagon until he got the tent. Where he also locked up his food to protect it from predators.)
He bought five acres of wooded land and lived in a tent while he was also building a small cabin. Rather than paying rent at another location, he funneled all his funds into his new cabin project.
He cooked over an open fire, but also occasionally enjoyed restaurant meals and meals with friends. Every Sunday afternoon a church family would have him over for dinner.
He had a solar water shower made for camping, supplied with spring water he fetched nearby. On weekends he would shower at a state park nearby.
He describes his whole camping and tenting experience as simply peaceful.
He clarifies that all these primitive experiences were a choice. It was a part of discovering what was really important in life.
Today, “Mr. Dennis”, as school children address him, is an itinerant educator, magician, and speaker.
He began doing magic shows in churches and libraries in 1998, then went full-time in 2001 presenting educational science shows. Soon thereafter he taught himself how to twist balloons and visits a dozen festivals each year.
It gives him the opportunity to interact with attendees and he tries to “add that personal touch that creates magical memories.”
Everything he does, from the balloon twisting, and magic and science shows are all “just tools to reach and encourage children and adults.”
What motivates him to do the balloon twisting?
“I love to see the smile on a face, the wonder in the eyes of a child—to know that, I have if only for a moment, helped people to forget their troubles and laugh.”
He continues, “And yet, when talking with people at festivals, my wife and I have also had many opportunities to cry with people and pray with people who are hurting. To let them know we care.”
He describes the biggest surprise people have about him: Left corporate success to minister to prisoners an children.
While he was busy interacting with festival goers I would hear him repeatedly talk about wanting to get people to smile.
When I asked him whether he may have had his own experience of struggle and “no smiles” that may be the motivation to draw that out of others.
“We’ve all had times with no smiles,” was his response.
He continued that his father passed away when he was fifteen and business partners have stolen from him. but he was quick to include, “But, I’ve also had people who would lift me up when times were hard. I try to be that person for others. When working with a child or adult, I may be the first person in a long time to make them feel special, to give them attention and lift them up.”
Since 2001, he has performed in 30 states, in over 2,100 schools and dozens of festivals, theaters, corporate events, restaurants and nursing centers.
Dennis and his wife married in 2005 after what he calls a “whirlwind courtship” and they have twin daughters who join them on their entertainment trips and also twist balloons and help with puppets and magical effects. Dennis and his family live near Freeport, Ohio.
Learn more about Dennis Regling at: greatassemblies.com