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Veteran mechanic reflects on fatherhood, St. Jude experiences

Dennis Hart and son, Dennis Hart, Jr.

Dennis Hart, right, pictured with his eldest son Dennis Jr., left

By Sasha Steinberg

In more ways than one, Dennis Hart lives up to his name.

The former U.S. Army diesel mechanic has served four years as a maintenance mechanic at St. Jude. He arrives a half hour early every morning to do his part in, among other tasks, ensuring campus transportation is kept up to standard for the patients, families and employees who rely on it.

“When I get here at 4:30 a.m., I check the buses that the passengers ride on. Diesel engines don’t warm up as fast, so I make sure to get them started in the winter to warm them up and get the AC going in the summer,” Hart said. “It also makes the drivers happy, and I like to see them smile.”

Hart donates to St. Jude via payroll deduction because he appreciates everything the hospital is doing to support patients and their families.​​​​​​​

“I love coming to work at St. Jude because it’s a good place with good leadership. There’s so much positivity here."​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

“I’ve met a lot of good people, including (St. Jude President and CEO) Dr. Downing. He is awesome. I saw him one day and said ‘good morning.’ He said ‘good morning’ back and gave me a fist bump. He cares about the people here, and it shows.”

Hart’s own passion for treating people with kindness is in part fueled by his mom. The two dedicate time each morning to speak together on the phone while Hart makes his way to St. Jude. Hart’s mom is the one who advised him to consider a career at St. Jude when he retired after working 35 years as a diesel mechanic.

“The work I was doing with heavy equipment in the military—it wears on you. My mom convinced me to come work at St. Jude because it would add 15 or 20 years to my life,” joked Hart, who started his St. Jude career doing maintenance work on buildings. “I know that day will come when those calls from her will stop, so I want to make the most of every moment we have.”

Hart said he also gets his drive to be a light in others’ lives from his own experience as a parent. With his wife of 29 years, Rachelle Hart, a U.S. Army veteran and St. Jude Human Resources business partner, Hart shares sons Dennis Hart Jr., a special events attendant in Food Services, and Isaiah, an avionics technician in the U.S. Air Force. Originally from Wisconsin, the Harts moved to Memphis when Dennis Jr. was 6 and Isaiah was 3.

“I tell my boys that no job is bigger or smaller than yours. At St. Jude, every job connects. Everyone has to do their job for us to be successful. When I come to work, I feel like I’m accomplishing something because this job is about the children.”​​​​​​​

Hart views his job as a parent the same way. His biological father, who died in 2009, was not actively involved in his life from a young age. The challenges that presented inspired Hart to be there every step of the way with his sons.​​​​​

“I told myself I was going to be a different father. I wanted the best for my family, so I worked hard. We never had the lights turned off, never went without meals. I made sure of it. I remember praying to God, ‘If you give me my health and strength, I will use them to take care of the blessings you give me.’”

In his sons’ younger years, Hart was big on involving them in hands-on, outdoor activities.

“I tinkered with lawnmowers as a kid, so I had them outside doing the same and playing with go-karts and 4-wheelers. I also got them to challenge me in basketball, but I don’t guard them anymore. I could take them in my 40s but not now that I’m in my 50s,” he joked. “I do keep myself in shape, though. I want my boys to be proud of me.”

Hart is proud of his sons and says though they are older, he is still just as committed to guiding them as they grow in their professions and lives.​​​​​​​

“Both boys bring something different, but we love them the same. We were tough—we told them they couldn’t have anything below a B in school. They’re smart. They got those brains from their momma."

“We wanted to raise them right, and it has meant a lot when they have said to me, ‘Thank you, Dad, for being tough.’ They understand why I did what I did. I believe in doing things the right way, just like St. Jude. I believe in the hospital, and I love everything they’re doing for the children.”