Dennis F. (Denny) Coleman will tell you gravely that his life, having been spent in the sprinkler business, has been completely uneventful. If you are on to him, you give him the answering poker face this magnificent understatement calls for and bide your time until you get him to talk. Those of our younger men who have spent some time with Denny and have been able to get him yarning about his experiences will swear there is absolutely no one like this hard-working, spunky, hard-boiled, soft-hearted, peppery, humorous, amazing pint-sized Irishman…No one!
Denny, we venture to say, is one of the three men who have spent a longer time in the sprinkler business than anyone else in the country. Denny was working for another sprinkler company in 1908 when the depression(called a slump or a panic in those days, depending upon how bad) hit. With all the banks closed, he made his way to Chicago where he got a job as draftsman with a pipe fitting and supply house that installed International Sprinklers for a salary of $8.00 a week.
When “Automatic” Sprinkler Corporation of America was organized in 1910, he accepted a job with the new company as engineer in charge of the work of the Middle West area. (Those were the good old days – operations were efficiently streamlined, all right, because one man had to see them straight through.)
Denny stayed with “Automatic” until some time in the twenties when he didn’t see eye-to-eye with the company on some organizational changes, and quit. After working for a time with two other sprinkler companies he started a company of his own. Not too long afterward he met I.M. Shively (General Superintendent, Construction) and decided to come back to “Automatic.”
He came to St. Louis about 1928 as Department Manager, and has been there ever since. He and Mrs. Coleman have reared two daughters and a son, and presently have eight grandchildren. Their son, John M., spent 1946-1949 with “Automatic” Sprinklers do Brasil before coming to St. Louis as a Contracting Engineer.
Denny disclaims any pretensions to being a fire-ball. Through thick and thin he has worked hard to service his customers, large and small alike. “Just tried to keep it clean and profitable,” he says, a little gruffly. His philosophy on work is simple: Do your absolute best every day, and then don’t worry about it.
Denny has sold sprinkler in times when the selling was really rugged. You had to get out and beat the bushes, and the going was rough. The way he sees it, though, there’s no business like the sprinkler business, never will be. His greatest gratification is that he can say – not boasting – that he thinks he has probably saved as many lives and as much property by his efforts to protect them as any man who ever lived.
Wrapped up in his job, Denny keeps up a pace that would whump most men half his age. But – and here’s where the amazing part comes in: Somehow he has managed to crowd into his lifetime enough interests for a dozen men.
In his limited spare time he has taught himself, with home-study courses and records, French, Spanish, German and Portuguese. (He reads the Readers Digest in these languages just to keep himself up on them.) He also reads Latin and Greek. He is an expert photographer, an enthusiastic gardener, a voracious reader. His stamp collection would make other philatelists gnaw their knuckles.
Denny has traveled practically all over the continent in everything from buggies to luxury air liners. A year or so ago he and his wife whet to Hawaii (where game Mrs. C. was accidentally ducked in the briny from an out-rigger canoe); this year he blew himself to a leave of absence and a trip with Mrs. C to Europe.
The trip he enjoyed more than any other was his journey to Brasil (talked into it by Mrs. Coleman, to see John’s first son), via passenger freighter. The days at sea, the towers and steeples of the 300 churches of San Salvador as the ship came into the bay on a misty morning, the statue of Christ behind the city of Rio, the wonder-city of Sao Paulo, and finally the beloved green hills of Mississippi on the way home from New Orleans – made this trip one of the greatest experiences of his life.
Here’s to a man who knows how to live as well as to work – you, Denny.