Questions & Answers with community faces
Though Dennis Pace grew up in the arid desert city of Phoenix, he married a Michigan girl who convinced him to move to Benzie County in 1988. Still here nearly three decades later, Pace says that he was instantly hooked by our lakes, rivers, and sense of community.
Graduating from the Michigan College of Optometry at Ferris State University 17 years ago, Pace now lives in Beulah and works at the Scarbrough Family Eyecare offices in both Beulah and Traverse City.
That may be his day job, but there’s more to Pace than meets the eye.
For instance, when it was unclear whether the Benzonia Ice Rink—a staple in our community for nearly 30 years—was going to be able to continue, Pace stepped up as the chief fundraiser and helped to save this free winter park. But his biggest task definitely comes in the fall season, when you can find Pace spearheading the local youth soccer program every Saturday from the beginning of school to the end of October.
This fall marks the 20th year of the program’s affiliation with the Benzie County 4-H program—though Benzie Area Youth Soccer began two years before that—and Pace has been the program’s director for the past 17 years. There are teams in Lake Ann at Almira Township Park, next to Mistwood Golf Course, and in Benzonia at Memorial Park, behind the Watson Benzie car dealership. The program runs completely on volunteers and benefits more than 200 area kids each year.
Continuing with our interview series on impactful Benzie County characters, The Betsie Current caught up with Dennis Pace as he was preparing for the start of the fall soccer season.
The Betsie Current: About how many patients do you see per week? What are you treating? Are you taking new patients?
Dennis Pace: There is definitely a seasonal rhythm in our office. Summer is busy with student and child eye exams, as well as summer visitors who have “emergencies” ranging from glasses lost in the water—the lake or the river—to scratched, injured, or pink eyes. We’re not quite as busy in the winter, but we still see a steady stream of patients, usually for glasses and contact lenses. We also see a significant number of people to treat or monitor conditions like dry eyes, glaucoma, macular degeneration, and diabetes. We are always happy to see new patients.
Current: How have you seen your work grow and change since you started?
Pace: The office gets busier every year. The Affordable Care Act [Obamacare] has definitely had an impact on our office—we see many more adults who now have health and/or vision insurance. In the past, those patients just didn’t come in, or they waited until problems were much more advanced and more difficult to treat.
Current: How have things changed over your tenure in Benzie? What are the biggest challenges and rewards of working and living here? What’s the best or most rewarding part of your job? What’s the toughest part?
Pace: My profession is very rewarding, I never dread going in to the office, although—just like everyone else—I am tempted by those perfect Benzie County days where the sun or the fresh snow beg you to call in sick so that you can go outside and play. The most rewarding patients are people who are in pain from a scratched eye or something stuck in their eye. Most of the time, I can help them to feel better immediately by removing the foreign object or putting on a bandage contact lens. Equally rewarding is helping children who have been struggling with school to see and read better. The toughest thing for anyone in health care is giving people bad news: fortunately, that is pretty rare for me, because modern eye care has amazing treatments for so many problems that used to leave people blind. There’s not much that is bad about living in Benzie County; winter is cold and dark, but I like to ice skate and ski, and I don’t mind driving slow for a few months out of the year. Maybe the biggest disappointment is the lack of opportunities for young people; so many move away, including my own kids. But my daughter has moved back to Traverse City (close enough) after living in Chicago for seven years. My son now lives in Grand Rapids.
Current: What are your favorite local events and activities? Any favorite dining, recreation, or hiking spots? What’s your perfect fall day look like in Benzie County?
Pace: My favorite local event is playing music and singing with my friends on Thursday nights, usually in my basement, dubbed “The Pacement.” I take part in the seasonal outdoor activities, like biking and hiking. I have a small sailboat that I like to take on Crystal Lake. I seem to enjoy fall more every year—the colors and the more relaxed pace of life after the usual hectic summer. My favorite hike is probably Old Baldy.
Current: What are some ways that you give back to the community?
Pace: I have a few different community activities that I’ve involved with: I’m on the board of directors for the Darcy Library of Beulah, currently as the board president. I’m also the main fundraiser for the Benzonia Ice Rink. My biggest project is being director of Benzie Area Youth Soccer, also known as 4-H Soccer, since we are a 4-H Health and Fitness Club, meaning that all coaches are 4-H volunteers and are screened by the local and state 4-H.
Current: How many kids participate in fall soccer?
Pace: There are usually about 200 kids who participate in the fall soccer program, which is available for kids in Benzonia and Lake Ann who are in kindergarten through 8th grade. Benzie Central Middle School has a team for 7th and 8th graders, so they usually play on the school team, but we often get a few middle school kids from Frankfort-Elberta or who are home-schooled.
Current: How many volunteer coaches, refs, and other adults participate in the fall soccer program?
Pace: On average, there are 16 coaches each year. Usually the refs are varsity players from the Benzie Central High School boys’ and girls’ soccer teams who ref on Saturday mornings.
Current: How did the program get started? How have you seen the program grow and change, and how has your involvement in the program grown and changed? Who else is influential in making it happen year after year?
Pace: It was started by Ingemar Johansson, Ruth Forrest, Jack Gyr, and others. I was not involved in the early years, but I’ve been the director since 1998, at which time my own kids were playing. Participation has doubled since I started, and that growth could not have happened without bringing in the Benzie Central High School varsity boys and girls as refs and assistant coaches. Scott Kubit [varsity coach for the girls] has been invaluable over the years in countless ways, from coaching to lining up all the refs to putting on coaching clinics, not to mention help from his own kids Megan [in college now] and Cameron [a current sophomore at BCHS on the boys’ varsity team]. Coach Scott Barker [varsity coach for the boys] has not been around the area as long, but he has contributed greatly, as well.
Current: We hear you’re about to be a grandfather: congratulations! What are the chances of your grandkids playing soccer?
The Scarborough Family Eyecare office of Beulah is open Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Call 231-882-5542 to schedule an appointment with Dr. Dennis Pace. Benzie Area Youth Soccer begins September 12 and ends October 31. The $35 fee includes accident insurance and a T-shirt, but you’ll have to bring your own shin guards. To sign your child up for youth soccer or to sign yourself up to volunteer, call Dennis Pace at 231-882-0369 or send an email to dennis@4HBenzieSoccer.org. Or call MSU Extension at 231-882-0025 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Check out the website at www.4HBenzieSoccer.org.
Feature photo: Dr. Dennis Pace at the 4-H Benzie Area Youth Soccer fields at Benzonia Memorial Park. Photo by Aubrey Ann Parker.