If smiling is contagious, then Dennie Huber was patient zero.
The larger-than-life entertainer who died in June knew how to draw attention. He towered over almost everyone around him in colorful shirts and matching top hats. His presence only grew when he got to work.
Huber would have been at the Centre County Grange Encampment and Fair again, showing off magic tricks, making balloon animals and giving a new meaning to making everyone a part of the show.
Shirley Heidrich, Grange Fair chairwoman of the entertainment committee, booked him for shows for more than 20 years. And each act began before the show started.
“The kids would be waiting for him,” Heidrich said. “If there was something they could do, Dennie would let them help set up the show. He was so very good with them, and they absolutely loved him. Dennie had a special connection with everyone. His happiness was in making other people happy.”
Huber’s wife, Donna, watched him work from a distance for 36 years.
“I enjoyed all of his shows, and I’ve probably watched every kind of balloon made and every trick hundreds of times,” she said. “Each time he did something a little different, and he wouldn’t stop until he could make everyone happy. We could be at a show for three or four hours afterward talking to people and making balloons. He never took a break, because he liked everyone.”
And that’s why it’s been difficult for family, friends and the strangers he befriended to let go of Huber since his death.
“Something that has stuck with me is how he was everybody’s friend,” said Galla Higinbotham, who performs musical acts with her husband, Dan Crosser. “Everyone has said that all over Facebook. All anyone says when they’re talking about Dennie is that, ‘Dennie was my friend.’ It feels like we’ve all lost someone special to us. If you watched one of his shows, if you ever met him, people of all ages felt the same way, that he was their friend. There’s nobody like Dennie, and if we all carry a little bit of his spirit and happiness with us, he will live forever.”
It’s hard for Donna Huber to pick only one trick that Dennie Huber enjoyed doing most.
It could be the one where he made water vanish inside a cup only to make it reappear moments later. Maybe he’d do the “Huber Shuffle,” a trick duringwhich someone picked a card, showed it to the rest of the room and mixed it in a paper bag with a full deck.
Dennie Huber somehow always picked the right card.
But his greatest trick of all didn’t need misdirection, a sleight of hand or smoke and mirrors.
Dennie Huber was the magic, because he could make anyone feel special.
“He wanted them all to have a smile on their face,” Donna Huber said.