Obituary: Wilfred Laurence "Bill" Dehnke |

Obituary: Wilfred Laurence "Bill" Dehnke

Wilfred Laurence “Bill” Dehnke, 90, passed away July 8, 2010, at his home in Carson City. His beloved wife Pat and their children were at his side. Bill was born in 1920 in Detroit, Mich., to Frederick and Amelia Dehnke, one of six children. He is survived by his sisters Violet Lindsey of Tennessee and Alberta Odett of Vermont.

More immediately, his survivors are his wife Priscilla “Pat” and their three children: Dianne (Nick) Tobey of Carson City; Michael (Cherry) of Chico, Calif.; and Robert (Elaine) of Herriman, Utah. They, in turn, presented Pat and Bill with six grandchildren; they, in their own turn have added nine great-grandchildren … so far. All of the progeny knew and loved their “Grampa Bill.” He and Pat would probably call them their greatest success.

During his service in World War II, Bill was stationed in the Carpinteria area where he met and married Pat, the love of his life for more than 67 years. From this lasting and loving union came the three aforementioned children. After the war Bill and Pat made their home in Carpinteria. They raised a family, made many friends and were very active in civic affairs. For example, Bill served on the Carpinteria School Board for several years. He was particularly active in Rotarian programs and was a charter member of the Carpinteria Rotary Club where he was honored as a Paul Harris Fellow. He and Pat were also active in a work-related program that established RM Pyle’s Boy’s Camp, a two-week retreat and counseling program for troubled youth.

Shortly after World War II, Bill went to work for Chancellor-Western Oil and Development, a subsidiary of Santa Fe Energy. Starting out as a roustabout in the Ventura District, he progressed to be a drilling foreman in the Taft, Calif., oil fields and eventually returned to the Ventura District as the field superintendent. This was an unusual path of achievement. Lacking an extensive formal education, but through diligence, effort and experience, Bill rose high in the oil industry. Surprising and unorthodox to many, it was no surprise to those closest to him. As one said, “He should have been an astronaut.” Probably so.

Besides a very successful career, Bill had many interests and avocations. Chief of these and related to all of them was an intense love and appreciation of the out-of-doors. His favorite haunt was the tundra of Alaska, but he was also familiar with and well travelled in all the national parks and landmarks of the western United States. He also knew the New England area and parts of the Midwest. Not only did he know these areas, but he appreciated and recorded his travels by his skill as a photographer with an eye for the animals, plants and trees, and the unique geologic formations he came across. His efforts have left his family with a pictorial essay that is astonishing.

Very often Bill travelled with Pat, (dragging her, as she said, but who willingly went) to far and not always tamed places. They hiked the Grand Canyon three times from rim to rim. They were white-water rafting aficionados, running the likes of the main Salmon, the Green and the Rogue Rivers, ending with a family retirement trip on the Middle Fork of the Salmon. They chartered a questionable plane and “guide” to spend some alone time in the middle of the Alaska Brooks Range hundreds of miles from civilization to photograph caribous. (Thankfully, the pilot was only one day late picking them up.) Sometimes to the consternation of his family and friends, he went alone, to all his favorite places: along the pipe line road in Alaska, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the slot canyons of the Southwest … sleeping in the back of his truck, eating spartanly, but always observing. Bill kept the camera going. Always on a road less traveled.

Closely related to his other interests was Bill’s keen understanding of astronomy. As the result of an eye injury, Bill studied optics and went so far as to build his own telescope including grinding lenses and chronicling his observations.

A natural teacher, Bill imparted these enthusiasms and activities to his children and grandchildren who have also pursued them to this day. A rare and very unusual man, he will be sorely missed but never regretted.

Bill’s family is deeply grateful for the incredible love and support provided by the caregivers and staff at Sierra Place, Maureen Leck of St. Mary’s Hospice, Drs. Foster, Gupta, Jones and McDonald and their staffs, Sidney Werner and the countless other friends of Bill and Pat.

A brief service followed by a celebration of life is planned in Carson City on July 30. Those interested in making a gesture are asked by Bill’s family to support any of his three favorite programs: RM Pyle’s Boy’s Camp, The Nature Conservancy, or the Carpinteria Historical Society.