Boundless urge to help behind Kuzmas being named Hinckley Citizen of the Year

by Erica Peterson

Dennis and Alison Kuzma are the first couple to be named Hinckley Citizen of the Year, but anyone who knows them will not be surprised, as they make a formidable team.

The two raise three children (Highland Middle School seventh-grader Addyson, Hinckley Elementary fifth-grader Landon and 2-year-old Peyton) and run their businesses at 1669 W. 130th St. (DMK Party Rentals for Dennis and Ackmera Custom Apparel for Alison), all while donating their products, time and an incredible amount of energy to the Hinckley Chamber of Commerce, community events and Highland Schools.

That’s a lot of together time, but the Kuzmas wouldn’t want it any other way.

Alison and Dennis Kuzma are the 2019 Hinckley Citizen of the Year, marking the first time a couple has received the honor. Photo by E. Peterson

“Most couples can’t work together, but we can,’’ said Alison 42. “We wouldn’t want to do what we do without each other.’’

“Us sharing duties is what makes us a great couple,” said Dennis, 46.

A letter nominating the Kuzmas as the Citizen of the Year urged the committee to buck tradition and consider a couple for the honor. “They work so well as a team in all they do to produce outcomes that, while each alone creates significant contributions, their combined efforts carry synergistic weight,” the nominator wrote.

Alison Kuzma (l) and Melinda Swan enjoy Buzzard Day in 2016. Photo by R. Schulte

“Hardworking, resourceful and imaginative, they bring joy, positivity and possibility to the projects on which they are involved,” the letter continued. “They inspire confidence because they do what they say they will and are reliable in their problem-solving approach to each project.”

That list of projects is long. First, the schools: through Ackmera, the Kuzmas provide spirit wear for Hinckley Elementary and the Highland Athletic Boosters, and through DMK, they donate everything from chairs and tables to hot dog steamers and cotton candy makers to school events like the end-of-the-year parties at Hinckley Elementary.

In fact, when called about this story, Dennis had to postpone the interview because he was on his way to donate chairs to a choir show at the elementary school.

The Kuzmas offered to provide seating at all such shows after attending one and finding it was standing room only.

Dennis Kuzma (r) visits with Fire Chief Jesse Grossenbaugh at Buzzard Day. Photo by R. Schulte

“Adding some chairs made a big difference,” Dennis said.

Alison volunteers at the spirit shop at Highland football games, using her equipment to create custom apparel on the spot.

Both have been actively involved with Buzzard Day for the past few years. Alison runs the craft fair, volunteering to take it over from the fire department a few years back.

“I like to organize, so it’s really fun for me,” she said.

Dennis handles the Buzz Carnival at Town Hall, donating tables, chairs and games, like the popular Plinko, as well as organizing vendors. He said the carnival has gone from eight vendors squeezed into the community room at town hall to 23 vendors spread out in the former fire station bays.

Another Citizen of the Year nominator said the Kuzmas are “one of the major reasons the Hinckley Chamber of Commerce was able to add the Christmas event,” Happy Hinckley Holiday, this year. They donated tables and chairs for the event, and Alison organized the decorations for Santa’s room and other areas of the event.

The couple is particularly proud of the large turnout for the first-year event, about 300 people.

“It was really exciting to help create something of that scale,” Dennis said.

A Citizen of the Year nomination letter described Dennis as “the kind of person you can call in the middle of the night, and he would come help you because it is the right thing to do for family and friends.”

The Kuzmas downplay the praise and are quick to thank the multitude of people who show up to help at community events, something that Dennis thinks makes Hinckley unique.

“We can’t do what we do without all the other volunteers,” Alison said.

It can be challenging to keep up the pace, Dennis admitted.

“Sometimes I get home and feel like my feet are going to fall off,” he said.

But it’s worth it, Alison said.

“In the middle of planning, we can ask each other, ‘Why do we do this?’” she said. “But then we get to the day of the event and look around at everyone and say, ‘This is why we do it.’”

When Alison saw a request for donations to help put on a carnival for a student at Parma Heights Christian Academy who has a brain tumor, they decided to donate all the time and supplies needed to pull it off. It was the right thing to do, Dennis said.

“If we have the tools to help somebody out, it’s not a matter of making money,” he said. “If we can help someone, we do it.”

The Kuzmas will receive their Hinckley Citizen of the Year award at the May 16 township trustees meeting.

Featured image photo caption: Dennis and Alison Kuzma, owners of DMK Party Rentals and Ackmera Custom Apparel respectively, are the first couple to be named Hinckley Citizen of the Year. They are being recognized for their unflagging volunteerism, whether it be donating carnival games like Plinko (at left) to Buzzard Day or providing spirit wear and other apparel (at right) to Highland schools. Photo by E. Peterson