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Bob Dennett: 1931-2011

Rohnert Park's first leader of the city's public safety department died Aug. 24 after years of battling cancer and heart disease, according to family members.

Between 400 and 500 people gathered Wednesday at Spreckels Performing Arts Center in Rohnert Park to remember and honor , who was 79 when he died. Following is his full eulogy, which was read at the memorial by Art Hollingsworth.

Bob was one of three children born William and Mary Dennett in Oakland, Calif. He is preceded in death by his two brothers, Billy and Clark.

Bob grew up in El Cerrito, California, where he attended Harding Grammar School and St. Joseph Junior High. He used to say the nuns at St. Joseph taught him all he needed to know, so he simply went to high school for the basketball and lunches. 

At Albany High School, he took to typing and fondly remembered being the only boy in class. He excelled at typing and soon figured out how to print his own report cards. Needless to say, he never got any Fs in school. Unfortunately, his younger brother Clark's attempts at doing so weren't nearly as successful. 

Bob also participated in glee club, auto shop and print shop. He was a yell-leader (which we later learned meant cheer leader) and had his own band at the time as well.

After high school, his father felt he should learn a trade instead of attending college, so he became a printer for the Berkeley Gazette. In September of 1951 his cousin Vern received a letter from the draft board, so Bob immediately went and enlisted in the Coast Guard. Four of his closest friends enlisted along with him.

He spent the next three years with the Coast Guard, serving in San Francisco, Alameda and Hawaii. He loved being stationed in Alameda because he could get free lunch at his parents' house during the day and sneak off to see his sweetheart and future wife, Marge, at night. Marge still keeps the box of love letters the two sent during his time in the Coast Guard.

At one point, Bob was transferred to a Destroyer. He told Marge he tried to simulate sea sickness by maintaining a steady diet of soda crackers and water, but it didn't work. Marge says all he got out of it was a 28-inch waist. But after putting in his time, he successfully requested a transfer off the ship when he heard from an enlisted friend that they needed basketball players in Honolulu. Even though in high school, Bob brought a pillow and a newspaper because he didn't get to play as often as he'd have liked, no one could ever say he wasn't driven.

Later, Bob was honorably discharged from the Coast Guard, in 1953. As an Irishman, Bob conveyed his delight and surprise in the fact that even two years later, he still had that tan.

In October of 1954, Bob married Marge, the love of his life. The two moved to Oakland, where Bob again worked as a printer for the Gazette. Soon their son Rick came along and as the family expanded, they relocated to a charming one bedroom home in Albany near both of their parents. 

When their second son, Ron, came along, they packed up yet again and purchased a home in Pleasant Hill. This would be a move that would change the path of Bob's life forever.

It was in Pleasant Hill where Bob grew close with Frank Sabatini — a friend that remains very near and dear to the family. Frank's police stories were ultimately what inspired Bob to become a police officer. During his first attempt at law enforcement, Bob trained his butt off. 

He was so impressed with his skills, he invited his uncle and cousin over the day before the Berkeley Police Department's agility testing, where he showed off his various abilities. Unfortunately, the following day Bob could hardly walk and missed the broad jump by a half inch.

Having learned his lesson, Bob applied and was accepted into the Richmond Police Department in 1960. Marge recalls him learning of the opening there, and rushing down to fill out his application with baby Rick in tow.

During Bob's time in Richmond, he also worked as a printer part time to help support his growing family. Shortly thereafter, his son Rob and daughter Sheryl were born, and the clan was finally complete.

Due to the expanding family, the Dennetts relocated into a larger home in Concord. Rick and Sheryl recall that during that time, Bob got his first police canine. Enter Victor: the gushy shy police dog.

The family remembers a time when Bob, not knowing the dog was so well-trained, told Victor to sit while outside one day. They returned home about two hours later and found poor Victor still stuck in the sitting position.

Being quick learners like their father, the children quickly learned to use the dog to their advantage. Rick remembers always getting touch downs during football games because he'd keep Victor on the sidelines. The dog would inevitably chase anyone catching up to Rick, ensuring his success.

As Bob advanced in his career to a narcotics officer assignment with Richmond, he somehow convinced Marge that a Mustang Fastback would be a way for him to maintain his undercover status. The car seated four, yet the family had grown to 6.

In an effort to make everyone fit, Bob laid the back seats down flat, and to this day Rick aptly describes he and his siblings rolling around like Lincoln logs in the back. Rick still jokes that some Velcro attached to his clothes would have been a good idea, especially for his younger brother Ron, who got motion sickness.

It was during his tenure as a narcotics officer that Bob learned of a new police department in South Lake Tahoe. He successfully applied for the sergeant's position, and again the family relocated. Cheryl, age 6 at the time, still remembers getting ahold of her dad's police radio and parroting everything she heard into it, until her dad rushed home and grabbed it from her.

Bob's favorite assignment with the department was boat patrol, but even that wasn't enough to keep him there after what his family jokes was a catalyst for the ir next and final relocation.

They explained that one day, Bob's friend came over and worriedly remarked about the 12 feet of snow on the family's roof. Actually, the guy apparently freaked out and told Bob his house was about to collapse.

Smart as he was, Bob hadn't realized that the snow actually had to be shoveled, and his son Rick is pretty sure that after the daunting task was completed, it didn't take much convincing to get him to move on. It was during a family vacation to Los Angeles when Bob saw an ad in the paper for chief of the Rohnert Park Police Department. 

He immediately called his cousin Vern and asked, "Where's Rohnert Park?"

Marge remembers at the time, Vern simply replied, "the last exit before River Road."

Soon thereafter, Bob was successfully commissioned to the position of Chief of the Rohnert Park Police Department by then City Manager Peter Callinan. When Bob arrived in Rohnert Park, he felt like Andy of Mayberry, and the family had finally found a place to call home.

Amongst Bob's favorite stories from the time was that of the "Star Spangled Banner."

Apparently each midnight, an officer would play it over the police radio. As Bob came closer to narrowing down his suspect, other officers joined in to throw him off the trail. The family recalled that Bob finally got rid of his Mustang at that time. His children still joke about finally being able to look out the window during car rides and never expecting to be so excited about their parents purchasing a station wagon.

As the community of Rohnert Park expanded, Bob implemented the Department of Public Safety, which dramatically changed operations and reduced department expenditures.

Among his many accomplishments, his family is particularly proud that he graduated the FBI National Academy, authored so many amazing articles, was acknowledged by the United State Senate and that he ultimately became the longest-residing police chief in the state of California.

During his retirement celebration, San Francisco Police Chief Frank Jordan officially recognized that day as "Bob Dennett Day."

Bob took great pride in the fact that he had individually hired the majority of the department's police officers, and considered them to be an extension of his family. Although the decision to retire was a difficult one, he was ready to begin the next chapter of his life.

After 32 years in law enforcement, and endless accomplishments, he retired in November of 1993 at the age of 62.

With his schedule cleared, Bob and Marge had time to do what they loved most — travel. 

They set out in their motor home to spring training each year to root for the San Francisco Giants. A former exchange student, Fred, who had become part of the family, hosted Bob and Marge on a tour of Europe, which was one of Bob's favorite trips.

Marge and Rick still laugh about the time Bob was begged not to leave the karaoke bar during one of their cruises. 

Bob's other passions included baseball, football, singing, writing and sailing. He and Marge also loved opening their home to visitors, and hosted exchange students, Junior Miss contestants and baseball players.

As the bedrooms emptied of the children, they were filled with visitors for over 11 years. To this day, these guests are still considered extended family.

A highlight of Bob's life was announcing games for the local baseball team, the Green Giants games. He attended Cal games for 20 years with his brother Clark and other friends.

His granddaughter Abby will never hear a baseball or football announcer on TV without immediately thinking of her pop. It is what she considers the soundtrack of her fond childhood memories at her grandparents' home.

Bob also very much loved sailing, and did so for many years with his cousin Vern. Marge recalls when Bob and his friend Tom Feeney went in on a boat together. They used to race sailboats, and in the paper next to their names it always said "DNF."

She jokes about how she initially though it meant "Dennett and Feeney," but she soon realized it really meant "did not finish."

Bob was an exceptional man, who lived an exceptional life. Throughout his time with us, he touched lives of many. Through his own actions, he inspired those around him to work hard, value honor, integrity, loyalty and humor.

Being a friend of Bob's meant being a friend for life. He enjoyed making others feel important and always sought the best in those around him. His smile, his hugs and kisses and his booming laughter will be missed dearly.

Bob was an excellent father, husband, friend, story teller and leader. And while he was only one man, he had many roles. So, while the titles and roles he played in each of our lives might be different, there are many qualities in Bob we all loved. It's these qualities that bring us here today to celebrate his life.

If there's one thing I'm sure of it would be that he would want us to celebrate his life today and not mourn the loss we've endured.

Guy Thompson September 07, 2011 at 06:29 PM
Karen the article above says it is the full-text you are looking for. Although he wasn't here from the very beginning, Chief Dennett has got to be considered among Rohnert Park's founding members who shaped the city's progress and success. It saddens me to see Rohnert Park decline more and more as these founders pass away. I just wish our current crop of leaders would follow in the example of people like Pete Callinan, Art Hollingsworth, Art Roberts, Maurice Fredericks and Chief Dennett.
Angela Hart September 07, 2011 at 08:10 PM
Thanks for your comment Guy. Karen, Guy is right, this is the complete text that Art read yesterday. Please let me know if you'd like anything else. Thanks.
Guy Thompson September 08, 2011 at 02:05 PM
Anyone know why the present Public Safety Director Masterson wasn't there? Or why former Director Tom Bullard didn't attend?
Karen September 13, 2011 at 06:05 AM
YES, that's it. I guess I was looking at another page (this was not the only one I put that request out to!) while posting here. I'm so excited to give it to her tomorrow! :)))

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