Taras B. Denis, an iconic figure in the deaf community, passed away on September 13, 2023. He
was 96 years old. Known in the deaf community as “Denis” with the letter “D” hand sign on the
heart and known to his family and friends as “Tata,” Denis was a remarkable leader in the deaf
community who touched countless lives and ignited a passion for deafness advocacy in the hearts
of many. His life journey was filled with many achievements, and he was a true inspiration for
all. His impact extended far beyond the Deaf community, inspiring many to become involved in
the field of deaf education and deaf advocacy.

Mustached elder man standing in yellow shirt speaking with a whiteboard to his left.
Taras Denis teaching American Sign Language at Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida in 2008.

Taras Bruce Denis was born on January 15, 1927 one of five children of Mary Opyr and Paul Denis, both Ukrainian immigrants. He grew up on the lower east side of Manhattan. He became
deaf from spinal meningitis when he was eight years old. Subsequently, his parents enrolled him in programs for deaf and hard of hearing students at Public School 147 and Public School 47. After completing eighth grade at P.S. 47 in 1940, he attended Straubenmueler Textile High School for two years.

In 1942, Denis transferred to New York School for the Deaf in White Plains, New York, colloquially known as Fanwood. At the time, male students at Fanwood received military training, even though they were ineligible to join the United States Armed Forces. Taras was a Cadet First Lieutenant. He was an outstanding student, especially proficient in English and literature, and a leader in several student organizations, including Boy Scouts, the student government, and the student newspaper. He also played sports, including wrestling, football, basketball, where he was captain of both the junior varsity and varsity teams, and track and field. Taras was valedictorian of the Fanwood Class of 1945. On their graduation day, he delivered the
valedictory address, titled “Toward Achieving Success.” In this address, he displayed insight and
wisdom well beyond his years: “We should all have sympathy and kindness for those around us.
Our personality should be well-rounded and socially adjusted. Our interests and habits should be
conscientiously adapted to our immediate surroundings. We must also read and endeavor to keep
up with the world so we can understand what is taking place about us and the effect it will have
on our lives….Finally, we must learn elasticity in our approach to the problems of life. We will
have to think and work for ourselves. We cannot depend on others as we have done here [at

Throughout his 96 years, Denis accomplished much, leaving behind an enduring legacy. One of
the most remarkable aspects of Denis’ life was his resilience. He never allowed being deaf to
hold him back, especially in an era when awareness of disability rights was lacking, closed
captions were not yet available, and social media was non-existent. Instead, he saw being deaf as
a source of strength and inspiration, and touched the lives of individuals who were inspired by
his passion and spirit. Many of his students, influenced by his “being,” went on to become
dedicated teachers, compassionate counselers, and skilled interpreters.

Soon after graduating from Fanwood, Denis married the love of his life, Anita Mankoff. They
were married for 71 years until her passing in 2018.

In the fall of 1945, Denis was accepted to what is now Gallaudet University. There, he majored
in English, and once again, was active in every aspect of college life including sports. His love
for poetry grew exponentially at Gallaudet. It was a constant companion throughout his life,
offering him solace and a means to express his deepest emotions. He called himself “the Deaf
Poet, and was prolific in writing poems about life, his friends, and especially his wife Anita.
Denis excelled academically at Gallaudet, and was involved in the student government and the
student newspaper. In 1947, he and two of his peers, Archie Stack and Andrew Vasnick, founded
the Alpha Sigma Pi Fraternity, the school’s second Greek letter organization for male students.
He and Anita also welcomed their first child, Rory. He graduated with honors in 1950 with a
Bachelor of Arts degree in education.

In 1954, Denis returned to New York School for the Deaf, and began an illustrious and
distinguished career that lasted over 40 years and a connection with the school that lasted a
lifetime. He was first an English teacher, then continued on with graduate school at Hunter
College and later at Columbia University, earning master’s degrees from both schools. He then
became a guidance counselor, academic program supervisor for the high school, assistant to the
superintendent, and finally administrative assistant for community and alumni relations.

Former students said that Denis’ teaching style was one of a kind, leaving an indelible mark on
them. Even today, his former student continue to hold him in the highest regard, a testament to
his enduring impact on their lives. Denis was not just a teacher; he was a mentor, a guide, and a
friend to those he taught. Many of his students to this day call him “The Father of Fanwood.”
Always wanting to be industrious, Denis took a second job as a printer, working with several
New York newspapers, including The New York Times. He worked there for over 40 years as
well. This was during a time when over 400 deaf people within metropolitan New York worked
as printers. A diligent worker with superior editing, proofreading, and composition skills, Denis
was as well-respected at the Times as he was at Fanwood.

Denis was also well-known for his civic involvement. He was one of the earliest proponents of
the use of teletypewriters (TTY) and telecommunications relay services for deaf people, and
worked tirelessly as an advocate for the rights of deaf and hard of hearing people in Westchester
County and the state of New York. His one-of-a-kind persona endeared him to local and state
elected officials and government leaders, and to the hearing community as well. Denis also
played an instrumental role in the founding of the National Theatre of the Deaf.

Denis taught American Sign Language at Westchester Community College in Valhalla, New
York, and later at Barry University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

His contributions were recognized by the Fanwood Class of 1981, which dedicated their
yearbook to him. In 1995, shortly after his retirement, he was inducted into the school’s Hall of
Fame for his achievements as a student and employee. In 2020, NYSD dedicated their 80th
anniversary celebration to Denis and Dr. Robert R. Davila, ’53 & H-’88, honoring them as
esteemed guests.

His lifelong friends included Dr. Davila, the second deaf president of Gallaudet University, and
other influential figures, including Dr. Lou Fant, and world-renowned actors in the Deaf
community, such as Bernard Bragg, ’52; Linda Bove, ’68 (Sesame Street), and Marlee
Marlin, H-’87
, Academy Award winner for Children of a Lesser God and in the recent
Academy Award-winning movie, “CODA.”

Denis was a fan of the New York Giants and the Seattle Seahawks, and enjoyed watching
college basketball, especially Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, where he lived for
ten years after retirement. He was also an avid tennis player, fan, and historian with an
encyclopedic knowledge of players past and present.

According to his daughter, Rona Denis Notton, G-’82, “My father was a man like no other.
Forever young at heart, he possessed a charm that captivated the young and old alike. He made a
difference in the lives of everyone he touched and had a unique gift, the ability to make everyone
feel cherished, as if they were lifelong friends from the moment they met him. His irresistible
personality, confidence, and the way he spoke were his trademarks, creating lasting connections
with people from all walks of life…but above all of his accomplishments, his love for his wife,
Anita, came first and foremost. He fiercely loved her and the family they made together. He
cherished his role as a husband, father, grandfather, and great grandfather. He could not be more
proud of Anita and his family, and loved them unconditionally”.

Denis is predeceased by his wife of 71 years, Anita Mankoff Denis. Taras is survived by his
daughter, Rona Notton, son in law, John Notton; son, Rory Denis; two grandchildren, Jeremy
Siwek and Marissa Siwek Mead, and four great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held on Sunday, October 15 at 2:45 p.m. ET at the Star of David
Funeral Chapel in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Donations may be made to the New York School
For the Deaf.

Gallaudet University thanks the Notton family for providing much of the background
information for this appreciation. Other contributors include Linda Mosca-Ginis, School History
Curator and ASL Coordinator, New York School for the Deaf; and Gallaudet University
President Emeritus Robert R. Davila, ’53 & H-’88.

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