His private life is one of the most popular stories in the Quad Cities.
In September 2013, Dennis Harker’s son – David Harker – went missing. A friend created the Facebook Page “Help Find David Harker,” which had nearly 1,000,000 hits in just a few days. It got the word out instantly to friends, relatives, and strangers about who David was, where he was last seen, and how they could help find him.
Days after he went missing, “Help Find David Harker” also updated thousands with the sad news that David’s body was found. The post was written by his father, Dennis.
“The closure for me was probably not 100% simply because he had been in the water and it was a closed casket and I never had that final chance to see him, so that was difficult for me,” Dennis told News 8’s Angie Sharp.
However, through pain… came purpose.
“We had a candlelight vigil the day we found David and and one of the things I asked the community to do was to ‘Pay it Forward,'” Dennis explained. “If I’m telling everybody else to ‘Pay it Forward,’ then I feel I have to do the same thing.”
“Both of their families contacted me and they wanted to know how we did, what we did with David’s search,” recalled Dennis. “With those phone calls, I decided that we really needed to make a support of the community.”
That’s how Dennis became the second of eight nominees for the Jefferson Awards. on behalf of WQAD and Genesis Health System.
Another Facebook Page was created, called the Quad Cities Missing Persons Network. Similar to the “Find David Harker” Page, it can reach thousands instantaneously to tell them about those missing in the area.
However, Moline Police Detective Michael Griffin says what Dennis is doing with the families of missing persons is even more impressive and that’s why he nominated him.
“He’s going to tell you what to expect emotionally, like the first night going to bed, the first night when you don’t know where your loved one is at,” he said. “Dennis is one of the few people in this area that intimately knows what that feels like.”
Dennis even helps with the searches. Det. Griffin recalls seeing Dennis on the news “walking in subzero degree temperatures looking for a person that prior to late December of last year, he had no idea who she was…”
Det. Griffin says Dennis is fulfilling a service and a need in the Quad Cities… and beyond.
“Now, there’s satellite groups starting up all over the country after seeing what he’s doing and it’s growing and it’s filling voids across the country.”
Nearly one year after David’s death, Dennis is a man with a mission and says he is humbled by the nomination.
“David wasn’t the first one missing. He won’t be the last. Neither will the other people. It’s going to happen forever.”
“I hope that we actually find people… and find them alive. ”
WQAD will be introducing you to a new nominee every month. Then, next Spring, we’ll choose just one to represent our area at the National Jefferson Awards Ceremony in Washington, D.C.
The Jefferson Awards are the country’s longest standing and most prestigious celebration of public service. Past winners include Chad Pregracke, Walter Cronkite, Steve Jobs, Paul Newman, and Michael Bloomberg.