Robert Dennett, Rohnert Park's first chief of police who pioneered the city's , died Wednesday, Aug. 24 at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital after years of battling cancer and heart disease, according to Dennett's daughter Sheryl.
"He survived three bouts of cancer and a series of strokes," said Sheryl, who lives in Vancouver, Wash. "He did a lot to bring the community together with the public safety department."
Dennett, who was 79, began his police career in Richmond in 1960, and in 1967, he moved to South Lake Tahoe, where he served until accepting the position of director of Public Safety in Rohnert Park two years later. Dennett went on to serve as head of police and fire from 1969-1993, according to Lt. John Marty, with the .
Marty said Dennett was a graduate of the FBI National Academy, he served in the Coast Guard and the National Guard. Dennett was stationed in Honalulu, and served part of his military service during the Korean War. He retired as major in 1988, according the the Press Democrat.
Close friends called Dennett courageous, altruistic and outgoing.
"One thing about Bob is he really treated people fairly," said Marty, who was hired by Dennett in 1989. "There was a different atmosphere back then — he treated every officer like they were part of his family, and he really had the pulse of the community."
"When Dennett arrived in Rohnert Park, the city had a population of 4,700 and the department he headed for $925 a month had only five public safety officers and 20 volunteer firefighters," according to an article published Friday in the Press Democrat. "When he retired, the department had 72 officers and volunteers."
Today the city's population is and the department has 60 sworn officers, according to Lt. Jeff Taylor, a department spokesperson.
Marty remembered a time that he called Rohnert Park's "good old days."
"We were smaller during Bob's time, but I remember things like during Christmastime, Bob had a rule that we wouldn't issue any tickets," Marty said. "During the month of December, what we called amnesty month, we'd still pull people over but we'd just tell them what they were doing wrong and wish them a happy holiday."
Marty and other former officers said Dennett shaped what the department is today. Officers said, for example, back then labor negotiations were done informally and police would often reward and recognize citizens for doing good things.
"Bob was very old-fashioned, and he only had two rules — don't lie to me, and if you make a mistake, admit it, learn from it and move on," Marty said.
Two of Rohnert Park's early leaders — Pete Callinan and Art Hollingsworth — said when Dennett passed, Rohnert Park lost an honest, humble man.
"Bob was a joy to work with," said Pete Callinan, who served as Rohnert Park's first mayor from 1962-1963, and went on to serve as city manager until he retired in 1990.
"He was a good director," Callinan added. "He was directly responsible for the implementation and success of the public safety concept, which saved the city quite a bit of money."
Callinan described Dennett as a great conversationalist, a straight shooter and a man of intelligence and character.
"Our condolences go out to his wife Marge and his family," Callinan said.
Hollingsworth, a former Rohnert Park mayor and who was also neighbors with the Dennetts, called the former chief happy and outgoing.
"I remember him as a very sympathetic man," Hollingsworth said. "He worried about people almost to the point where he'd start to tear up."
Friends said he loved to sing, he liked photography, sailing and baseball.
Callinan said every year Dennett would travel to Arizona for spring training.
"He was a big fan of the giants and also the Rohnert Park Poineers," Callinan said. "He even took in some ball players at his house."
"Dennett was born in Oakland and raised in the East Bay. He attended Albany High School, where he played basketball and football and studied printing," according the article in the Press Democrat.
Funeral services for Dennett are planned for 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 6 at Spreckels Performing Arts Center, located at 5409 Snyder Ln., Rohnert Park. The public is welcome.
He is survived by his daughter Sheryl Dennett, a son, Richard William Dennett of Santa Rosa and his wife Marjorie. The couple were married in 1954. "He is preceded in death by his sons Ronald and Robert. He is also survived by seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren," the article stated.