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The Rev. Dennis Oglesby could see seeds germinating in people, and he would tend to them until they sprung to life.

Cynthia Williams had been working as Oglesby's associate minister at Minneapolis' Park Avenue United Methodist Church, where Oglesby was pastor, when "one day, long before I knew it for myself, he stood in my door and started crying," Williams recalled. "I said, 'What in the world?'

"And he said, 'God has called you to be an elder.'"

Williams went on to become the Twin Cities district superintendent of the United Methodist Church. "Dennis would arrest you in a way with his vision," she said, "because he cared deeply about community and people being aligned with their true callings."

A spiritual leader beloved in both the church and the community, Oglesby died Sunday at the University of Minnesota hospital. The 64-year-old had a heart attack three weeks before and was back in the hospital after a second heart attack.

"We'd just put my grandbaby on the bus, and he was coming back through the garage when he stumbled," said his widow, actor Greta Oglesby. "He had a small pain in his chest that shot up to 10. They put two stents in him, but they closed back up and threw him back in cardiac arrest. He never recovered."

The two formed a prominent Minnesota power couple. He presided over the pulpit, with stints at Hennepin Avenue, Park Avenue and Camphor Memorial United Methodist churches. The latter, in St. Paul, is where was serving at the time of his death.

She commanded the theatrical stage, from the Guthrie, where her title character in Tony Kushner's "Caroline, or Change" is etched in memory, to regional theaters such as Chicago's Goodman Theatre, where she originated the role of Aunt Ester in August Wilson's "Gem of the Ocean," to Broadway, where she was the understudy for Phylicia Rashad in "A Raisin in the Sun."

Born in Chicago to insurance executive Dennis Michael Oglesby Sr. and community organizer Sylvia Oglesby, Dennis Jr. grew up in California with his father after his parents divorced.

He met his wife at Rust College, a Methodist-affiliated school in Holly Springs, Mississippi. She was studying to be an accountant and he a newscaster. They bonded quickly, if unexpectedly, over their shared love of singing and performing arts.

They listened to the "Dreamgirls" soundtrack under the stars.

In 2011, Dennis Oglesby joined his wife Greta onstage for her "I Sing Because..." concert at the Capri Theater in north Minneapolis.
In 2011, Dennis Oglesby joined his wife Greta onstage for her "I Sing Because..." concert at the Capri Theater in north Minneapolis.

Tom Wallace

"I had a list of things I wanted in a man — 6 feet tall, bowlegged, fair-skinned and an athlete — and Dennis is 5-foot-8, deep chocolate," Oglesby said. "That list was so silly and trivial because once I got to see him, I couldn't help but fall in love with him."

The couple, who married in July 1984, faced hurdles. The first was his desire to become a preacher.

"About four or five years into our marriage, he came to me and said, 'Baby, God has called me into the ministry.' I said, 'Over my dead body,'" Oglesby recalled. "My father was a pastor of storefront churches in Chicago and no way. It was taxing and too demanding."

Eventually, after she learned that Methodist church leaders have salaries, pensions and housing stipends, she relented, supporting him as he earned his theological degree from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

After stints in Illinois, he was hired as minister to the city at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church, where he served seven years. Greta Oglesby was at first reluctant to start over in a new city but began to flourish, not only with big roles in Minneapolis but all over the country.

That success meant long spells apart as he preached in Minnesota while she acted in California or at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. But when he saw his wife perform in "Caroline," a lightbulb went off.

"He said to our son, Chase, 'That's your mom's ministry,'" Oglesby recalled. "He was always encouraging, but he now understood deeply the work we're each called to do."

The reverend also saw the work that Steve Belton, then a lawyer attending Park Avenue United Methodist Church, was called to do. He encouraged Belton to pursue ministry and walked alongside him.

"In the church we often say that God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow," Belton said. "Dennis was the same no matter where you saw him, and he was always encouraging you to find your deeper purpose."

Belton, who would go to seminary, recalled the first time he preached at Park Avenue.

"As I got up, he introduced me and whispered, 'You better preach, boy,'" Belton said. "I will miss his mentorship and friendship, his deep-in-the-word preaching and his way of walking with young people."

Sharon Sayles Belton, the former Minneapolis mayor and Belton's wife, recalled a youth trip she and others led to Chicago. Oglesby hosted them during his penultimate assignment. The Beltons joined the young people in sleeping on the church floor, and they were feted the next day with a sumptuous breakfast.

"Those kids are now in their 20s and are still talking about that trip," Sayles-Belton said. "Dennis lived out the values that we as a community most affirm."

Oglesby was so full of life, said Curtiss DeYoung, CEO of the Minnesota Council of Churches and Oglesby's friend for 25 years.

"He was a visionary — but a practical one," DeYoung said. "He was a pastor and an amazing singer. He had such a range of gifts and talents that he shared with everyone because he believed so deeply in the beloved community."

In addition to his wife, Oglesby's survivors include his daughter Meghann and son Chase, both of Minneapolis; mother Sylvia of Chicago; sisters Shawn Oglesby of Las Vegas and Katherine Oglesby of Chicago; brother Laurence Oglesby of Oakland; and two grandchildren.

Services have been held.