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The Biggest Heart

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“Oh Denny, where do I begin with Denny.”

This is how Morgan Smestad, a Loan Assistant at Choice Financial in Grafton, begins her story. She’s referring to her coworker Dennis “Denny” Schneider, a Business Development Officer who has been an integral part of Choice Financial for over 11 years. In that time, he has successfully established himself as a face of the business, a through-and-through example of what it means to live ‘PeopleFirst’.

“He is Choice Financial,” Morgan says. “Everyone tries to follow Denny’s example of how he treats people and how he helps businesses.”

The most recent example of Denny’s “People First” mentality can be seen in his servant-hearted friendship with a Choice customer and long-time family friend, Anders. Anders is nearly 90 years old and has been battling cancer for two years. His wife of nearly 70 years, Susan*, passed away last year. Since then, Anders has felt lost, Denny says.

“He treated her like a queen,” he says. “She was his life.”

In her absence, Anders has started coming to visit Denny more often. Sometimes he sits and tells stories, like how he wooed his wife from the East Coast back to North Dakota, or the date nights when they would go barn dancing in Grand Forks. Denny always lends a listening ear.

The two also talk about Anders’s charitable giving, of which he has done a lot of since his wife’s death. With Denny’s help, Anders has given to a variety of causes — hospitals, nursing homes, an elementary school in Peru, a veterans’ memorial — all in his wife’s name. Denny helps Anders’s by instructing him to seek the advice of his accountant to ensure his tax information is correct and each donation is properly set up.

“He doesn’t always ask for help,” Denny says. “But I check in with his accountant to make sure everything is good to go.”

Anders is a farmer, a former potato broker, who can usually be found in bib overalls. He’s a stoic, gentle man, Denny says, someone who might come off as gruff at first just to test you and see if you can handle it. Lately, the cancer and loss of his wife have taken a toll on him. He often needs help walking around, or lacks the energy to complete daily tasks. He may not like to ask for assistance, but Denny is always there to offer him a hand.

“Denny will run to his house to get signatures so Anders doesn’t have to leave his home,” Morgan says. “He runs simple errands for him, like picking up the mail, or going to get his taxes prepared. And he does it all with compassion.”

Denny, of course, waves his hand. “Oh stop,” he says. “Enough about me. It’s a team effort.”

He shares how Morgan, too, makes cookies for Anders so Denny can bring them to his house. Sometimes, after treatment, Anders loses his sense of taste. Then, the cookies go in the freezer and Anders saves them for later.

On a recent visit to Anders house, he came to greet Denny with a grin. “I got my taste buds back,” he says and pulls some cookies from the freezer. It’s just one way that Denny and his team can bring him joy. And while Morgan commends him for going out of his way, Denny says it’s part of genuinely caring for someone — customer or not.

“I don’t consider it going out of my way,” he says. “It’s like the Choice core value: Work hard, do the right thing, and have a little fun. You’re just showing respect for people.”

And even though Anders may not ever ask for help, his gratitude is apparent in the trust he shares, the stories he tells, and the smile on his face whenever he gets to talk with Denny.

“It’s just the way Denny is,” Morgan says. “He has the biggest heart I’ve ever seen.”

*Name changed to respect customer privacy.