It was Dennis Greendahl's dream to become a firefighter.
"He was a very physical person, a natural-born athlete," said his brother-in-law, Jerry F. Brown. "He had this desire to become a firefighter because it was a physical job ... and he wanted to put that to use by doing something for others."
Greendahl, 57, who became a Minneapolis firefighter in 1968 and retired as a captain at Station 8 in 1994, died unexpectedly of an embolism July 8 at the Richfield Health Center. He was in long-term rehabilitation after suffering a brain injury in November.
Brown, who also was a Minneapolis firefighter, said Greendahl graduated from Minneapolis' Roosevelt High School in 1961 and was voted Most Valuable Player on the football team. "He was a ferocious lineman," he said. "He was one hell of a tackler."
Those physical abilities stood out after he became a firefighter.
Former Fire Chief Tom Dickinson worked with Greendahl in 1969 at Station 10, which is downtown. "He was very physical; he was a big man, a weightlifter, bodybuilder and a very strong and capable firefighter."
He also was a very quiet, unassuming nice guy, said Dickinson, who stepped down as fire chief in 1998.
David Brysky, a firefighter at Station 1, worked with Greendahl at Station 8 in the early 1980s, when Greendahl was captain.
"At that time he was a very good captain, especially for young people learning the job," Brysky said. "He was very good and very calm at a fire."
After a close call during the Donaldson's department store fire in downtown Minneapolis on Thanksgiving Day 1982, Greendahl decided to become a captain, said his wife, Frances Greendahl of Bloomington.
"He couldn't see, and lost his sense of direction" after being sent into the building, she said. "That had an effect on him. ... He just didn't want to see that ever, ever happen again."
The tragedies that he saw as a firefighter made his two children all that much more important to him, she said. "Every Sunday dad would bring home a big box of doughnuts for the kids. That's what the kids lived for for years."
In addition to his wife, survivors include his mother, Marian Greendahl; a sister Jacquelyn; a daughter Lisa Greendahl, and a son Jay Greendahl.
Services will be held at 7 p.m. today at the Cremation Society of Minnesota, 7110 France Av. S., Edina.