A Utah State University professor and department head is being remembered for his encyclopedic knowledge and efforts to bring aquatic therapy to the forefront of medical care.
Dennis Dolny, 61, USU professor and head of the department of kinesiology and health science, died from complications of a stroke Jan. 9, the school announced late this week on its website. A public event celebrating his life will be 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 27, at the Caine Performance Hall.
When Dolny was ill in the hospital, Ellen Dolny, his wife, recalls talking with USU administrators, who asked what they could do to help the family.
“They said, ‘What do you want to do?’ I said, ‘We’re going to live like Denny,’” Ellen said. “We’re going to celebrate his life because that’s the kind of guy he is.”
Dolny was an exercise physiologist, earning three degrees in physical education. After earning his Ph.D. at Kent State University in 1985, he took a teaching appointment at the University of Idaho, where he stayed until 2008. That same year, he joined USU, where he took a slot for department head.
Eadric Bressel, a professor in the department of kinesiology and health science, considered Dolny both a friend and a colleague.
“He had, basically, a walking encyclopedia: very good, in-depth knowledge on many different topics,” Bressel said. “He could talk with anybody.”
Dolny could even talk about the “little things,” his fellow professor said.
“Things that I didn’t think were very important, like sauerkraut on hot dogs,” Bressel said. “He could talk about that forever.”
Meghan Saenz, Dolny’s daughter, said Dolny loved pizza and had his own recipe for the dough, something the family will share at the memorial Saturday.
Dolny would make pizza for the family every Sunday night, Saenz recalled. The pizza-making ritual would evolve into something more: an annual event with his students.
“It was definitely kind of the vehicle that would allow him to really open up his house,” Saenz said. “Everybody who came over was very welcome.”
On top of teaching and administrative duties, Dolny still found time for research.
His favorite topic was aquatic therapy: the use of a pool, with the help of a healthcare professional, to treat people with a variety of ailments.
According to his curriculum vitae, Dolny studied the effectiveness of aquatic therapy in topics such as osteoarthritis and how it impacts a person’s balance.
Dolny was a big believer in using pools for therapeutic purposes to treat everyone from seniors to athletes. He consulted with Logan-based AquaWorx Physical Therapy & Fitness and a Pennsylvania-based company called HydroWorx.
Michelle Harmon, an administrator at AquaWorx, said Dolny was responsible for convincing her outpatient facility to install a pool for aquatic therapy. AquaWorx, would, in turn, send its patients up to USU to participate in research.
“He was very instrumental in assisting us getting our pool,” Harmon said. “He was a good resource.”
Dolny’s consulting led to a “huge number” of therapy pools sold worldwide, according to Bressel.
“I watched him and he’s an incredibly good salesman, if you will,” Bressel said.
Rob Miller, regional director of sales for HydroWorx, knows about Dolny’s presentation approach firsthand. Miller traveled extensively with him to give presentations when HydroWorx relied on Dolny for professional consultation.
“He was probably one of the most brilliant presenters I ever met,” Miller said. “He had this brilliant method of taking a complex science, medical research, and then articulating it almost in an artistic way, with humor, so the lay person can really understand.”
You can make a donation to the Dennis Dolny Memorial Fund at https://www.usu.edu/advancement/dolny/.