On May 13, 2022, an extra-ordinary man left this world to continue building an empire in heaven for the family he left behind. Our husband, father, grandfather, uncle and great uncle, Dennis Briese, was a builder in life. He built an empire not of wealth or land, but an empire of family. He taught this family that no matter how far you go or how much you gain; family is your destiny and wealth.
Dennis was born on March 29, 1949, to George and Martha (Nerby) Briese, in Bismarck, ND. He was the middle child of five and at a young age was providing for his biological family. At the age of 4 he was standing on a chair frying eggs for breakfast- his cooking skills continued to expand, and he taught his daughters to cook. As a middle child he learned to be on his own and was quite a terror at times but always pulled everyone together. He does have a sister (Diana) living in Washington State. He was a man of great knowledge not learned from books, but from the experience of life. He attended Lincoln Elementary School and then Bismarck High School, he left school at the age of 16 with an 8th grade education and went to work and never quit until his health prevented him from doing so. He stated he did not have a paper degree but was a “wood technician” by trade. He built homes in the Bismarck area- including his log home and his daughter’s homes (with the help of Mark and Darren- his sons-in-law, of which he was very proud, on 10 acres that was a pasture and over time became a small paradise outside of Bismarck. This allowed him to see his six beautiful grandchildren; as well as three great nephews (to whom he was the “great” uncle) be born and move into adolescence and adult hood. His greatest passion was to attend every sporting event, concert, band, or gymnastic event- it did not matter what the child was doing for any of these nine children he was there. He built these children a “castle” in his front yard so he could see what they were doing at all times, this playground exists today to remind us all that children were a priority in his life.
On May 19, 1965, he met Janice Sabot and their relationship will continue thru eternity. They were married on August 10, 1968, in Morton, Washington where they spent the first year of their marriage, while he worked at the Tubafor Sawmill. He returned his young family to Bismarck to work as a carpenter in the area, but he always had a wondering foot that led him on many travels, he stated his most memorable trip was a family Disney cruise. He had two daughters Tamara and Wendy and then gained a little imp that soon became “Oscar” to him, his niece Nicole became his third daughter. He was proud of the men all his “girls chose”, they are good husbands and fathers (Mark- Darren and “Oscar’s John) with a good work ethic and have raised his grandchildren- Chance, Destinee, Brenna, Seth, Brooklyn, Journie and the three “greats” Kaden, Max, and Sam, to be faithful and beautiful human beings. They all carry a special piece of the personality that is their grandfather and “great” uncle. He left his mark on any child that he met. He made them feel as the world was theirs and he felt every child deserved a home. Dennis and Janice were foster parents for eleven years. The last four years were to Destiny, Tia, and Talon Ennen and they continue to hold a special place in his heart.
Dennis was a man with strong opinions but never held a grudge and became a friend that would do what was needed at the moment. He carried this into his marriage; both Dennis and Janice were told by his mother-in-law- “God never promised you a rose garden –go home and clean the weeds” and we did time and time again- sometimes there was strong controversy that made others wonder how or why we remained together. Our years started with young love that was blind but continued to grow with respect and a love that will continue thru eternity; leaving a legacy for the family that he created. This was a relationship that everyone said was a “disaster” was proven wrong by his strong commitment to family and children.
This man was an uncle to many children on both sides of his family- he could tell you stories about each of these children and would ask about them and where they were. He had things he did with everyone sometimes giving nicknames to some who spent more time with us at certain times in life, April and Julie (sister’s children) in Washington that he would travel to watch their children play in sports, and when those kids were grown, traveling to gamble with the girls. There was also “Sooner” (LoraLea), who spent time as a young child with us. This did not mean there were favorites, Dennis never had favorites, it was ”what was“ at the moment. Each child he touched was unique and that was evident when he asked about them in later years. He thoroughly enjoyed hearing about the great nephews and nieces being born. As a grandfather he did many things that are remembered, according to them; Wednesdays became special days; those were Grandpa and Grandma’s night for sleep overs, as they could catch the school bus at our door, but the most special memory was that for years he would pick them at school with Jr. Frosty’s and fries waiting for them. Moms stated that they were always grateful for Grandpa- at concerts, sporting events, or in whatever the child was involved because he always went an hour earlier to save seats in the front rows. They always knew they had front row seats to watch their children.
Dennis had many friends throughout the years, and he continued to tell stories of when they were together, whether that was working with Curt and Jeff or playing cards with Jim. He never forgot the time he spent with friends even from childhood. He was a social person to whom people gravitated.
A private service was held when Dennis could hear his family singing gospels songs; his family sang several songs led by Journie with the last being “On the Wings of a Dove” then saying prayers and finally his grandchildren singing “The Unicorn Song” that he always played for them, which if you know the words is a faithful song. We knew when he left it was to build a place in the “empire of heaven” for his family; and until we meet again, we know he will be sitting at a pinochle table playing cards his way; with a unique laugh or swinging a child on a swing. Our greatest sorrow was saying goodbye, but our greatest joy is that he is at peace and making the way for us; as he did throughout his entire life.
If you wish to honor this extra-ordinary man, push a child on a swing or send a contribution to St. Jude’s or the Shriners, as a child was always the most important aspect in his life.
Finally, we would like to thank the family who donated lungs to Dennis. We are aware of the process a family goes through to make this kind of donation as it takes additional medical time, and this means additional sacrifice from a grieving family. Your sacrifices provided Dennis additional time with his family as he watched his grandkids grow; because of your kindness, his grandchildren and family have many special memories to pass on.
The family would also like to thank two special people who supported Dennis and his family with the lung transplant process. During the many trips to Minnesota, Wayne Determan would feed the family and provide comfort by sharing his home and providing emotional support during trying times. This is a gift that can never be repaid. Mick Peterson with Health Now provided for Dennis’ care at home. He came to the home to see Dennis and made contacts too numerous to count with other providers on Dennis’ behalf. When the family had difficult decisions to make, he took time out of his busy schedule to always answer calls and provide the comfort and guidance needed. There are many who bring light in the medical field, but Mick is one of a kind and his services are above and beyond typical medical care. He is a gift to his patients.
Dennis Briese—A Tribute to Our Father
By Tami Unterseher and Wendy Malard with our little additional sister—Nikki Hoffman
Yesterday Heaven gained a jokester. We’re sure they can hear his unique belly style hyena laugh across the realms. They’re saying that’s Dennis Briese- he’s such a funny guy.
Of course, he found the first pinochle game he could, and his pinochle partner is already saying “I’m gonna play my way. You play yours” and our dad is laughing as he says ok.
Tami got her love of travel and adventure from dad. They were the two foodies in the family… always wanting to try new places. After his double lung transplant, he couldn’t eat because nothing tasted good. He was eventually moved to full time feeding tube. So, we expect he stopped at the first buffet he found before heading to the pinochle game.
Dad loved music and animals. We attribute our love pets and music to him. As his daughters we often rode across the dance floor on his feet. He loved to dance the twist at all the weddings, and it became a competition on how low we could go… Tami usually WON because of being the shortest!
Our dad was stubborn and raised two strong minded daughters. He taught us to think about the underdog and to look at more than the obvious in a situation which led Tami to advocacy and social work and Wendy to nursing and advocacy in the medical field.
He worked construction for many years, helping my sister and I as well as our partners to build our homes. Affectionately called Beavis by Darren because he nicknamed Darren butthead. Building discussions were always interesting because no one built the way dad though it should be built! Wendy wasn’t great at building she almost fell off the scaffolding and almost nailed her hand to the flooring with a nail gun. Dad would laugh and shake his head figuring she’d learn- even if it was the hard way. Tami wasn’t into the messy part but would come behind with a way to make it all pretty and Dad understood his daughters had different talents. He let his girls learn the hard way because he knew it would build character. When a boy was bullying Tami in school, he taught her to stand up. He raised strong women and was a father to many… Taking his nieces and nephews under his wings. Even Nikki, his niece, got in on the building lessons which were not easy from the stories she tells–ha-ha.
When his grandkids were mostly grown, he found Nikki’s kids to tease and mentor. He loved going to their games and band performances. He always attended his grandchildren’s performances of choir, band, dance, baseball, basketball, and track… He loved watching whatever they loved doing.
Nikki spent so much time with all of us and over the years helped so much with medical appointments and transplant issues she became his 3rd daughter. We couldn’t have done it without her help. They loved to do early morning breakfasts or impromptu dinners. Dad loved this time with Nikki and her kids. He was blessed. Saturday Max was at a chess tournament because of Uncle Dennis who taught him as a child. He vowed to win in honor of Uncle and took 3rd place in his division… Uncle would be so proud and say GOOD JOB MAX as he gave him an “A” OKAY-sign.
Dad raised strong women. In the end it was the women in his life that helped him live in the best way possible after his transplant. Given GOD’s support, our love for him, his wife as his advocate and motivator, Tami’s wisecracks to make any situation funny, and two phenomenal nurses- Wendy and Nikki managing medical care, dad survived longer than many, after transplant.
Dad had a tough life growing up, but he made sure he gave his family the experience he never had. The family legacy he left behind was never more evident than when his 3 daughters and grandchildren surrounded him in his last moments.
He wasn’t raised with much church-time, but he found his faith strong as an adult and was baptized with his youngest grandson, Seth. He read the bible and for someone who never finished high school that was a feat.
On the day we said our goodbyes, we had a family style service for Dad at his bedside singing all the songs of faith he and we love, as we prayed for Jesus to take his breathing struggles away peacefully. It was a beautiful time filled with faith and love. In our minds there isn’t a better way to pass… going from our arms to the arms of Jesus.
Our dad was a kid at heart and loved to give to kids… -known to many, as Uncle Tubby. Heaven is roaring by now with laughter and he is playing games… like giving kids a piggyback ride on his back as he crawls across the ground.
Dad requested a private family burial. In lieu of cards and flowers please donate to a children’s organization of your choice. The family loves St. Jude and Shriners…
We chose “On the Wings of a Snow-White Dove” as one of our send offs because it was one of his favorites. He played it so often as a kid Tami and Wendy still remember every word by heart. Take a moment to listen to it. We hope it brings others his sense of faith and peace in knowing he knew Jesus.
Many miracles surrounded us in the last days and we Thank GOD for being in our midst as we said goodbye…
Give an extra hug today and share a laugh with someone you love for our time together on this great earth is as we know much too brief…
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