Dennis Peter DeGross, 78, historian, comic, activist, occasional ukulele player, compost aficionado, lover of travel abroad or to a new grocery, died on February 11, 2014 among loved ones and Native song at Oregon Health Sciences University of complications from a ruptured aorta.
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With his first wife Ellen, they had three children: Kristin, Avidan and Sidney. Thru his wife, Vonni Carole, he gained two stepsons: James and Jeff.
An insatiable lover of life experience, Denny's known occupations included logger, taxi driver, barber, firefighter, military, rattlesnake catcher (just for beer money), grant writer, teacher in a one-room school house, rehab counselor and founder of the Native American program at U of O. During his 30 years in Alaska, he "rattled a lot of cages" for Alaska Native and rural/frontier populations' rights to self-determine their health infrastructure. Named by peers as the "Father of Alaska Rural Health", he wasn't afraid to eat slugs, run a bingo parlor or testify before Congress to achieve his goals.
The consummate Renaissance man, Denny studied Eastern and Western history with the same zeal he baked each loaf of bread, considered nitrate fixation in local crops and debated current geopolitics with anyone who would listen. He helped his share of European tour guides who needed to learn a thing or two.
Nothing was retiring about Denny's retirement back in Lewis County, Washington. He and Vonni measured their resplendent three acre garden in its diversity, beauty, gallons and tons. He joined a woodcarving group - a great place for men with knives to engage in politically divisive conversations, helped create a 501(c) 3 to save the local swimming pool, door-belled for school levies, gave his share of sermons at the local Unity Center, enjoyed various morning coffee groups with other old guys, camped, played cards, entertained, entertained, and entertained some more.
Of everything, his active participation and service in countless Alcoholics Anonymous groups across the country over 16 years brought him peace and joy.
Denny is survived by all five of his children, their nine grandchildren, a great-granddaughter, and countless nieces and nephews. He met and is survived by the love of his life, Vonni, whom he met on September 3rd, 1984 on the shores of Lake Alegnakik in remote Bristol Bay, and they experienced the world together.
Financial contributions in Denny's name can be made to any of your favorite causes, and the UAA RRANN Program.
Published in Alaska Dispatch News from Feb. 21 to Feb. 22, 2014