December 22, 2007
Dale Denny, in 1933 a junior at Vancouver High School, hopped on an eastbound freight train and ended up in the sky above Chicago during the World’s Fair.
“He had his first airplane ride,” said Dale’s wife, Mary. “And he loved airplanes ever since.”
Dale Denny died Dec. 12. He was 92.
Before airplanes, Dale’s first love was journalism. He worked on the Shumway Junior High School newspaper and later edited the Vancouver High paper. His career spanned five decades in newspaper, radio and television.
Dale never stopped thinking about news. “It was just in his blood,” Mary said.
“The radio was on the moment he woke up, to find out what was going on,” said Dale’s son, Mark.
Fresh out of high school, Dale got a job with The Sun, a Vancouver paper that was later bought by The Columbian. At the time, The Sun was owned by the family of Dale’s high school sweetheart, and later wife, Ellen Harlan.
Dale got a job covering Southwest Washington for the Oregon Journal in Portland. He and Ellen married in 1935.
One of Dale’s biggest triumphs as a journalist came on June 20, 1937. He had filed his day’s stories in Portland and was driving home to Vancouver when he noticed a huge plane preparing to land.
The Soviet monoplane had just made history in crossing the North Pole nonstop from Moscow, en route to San Francisco. But fuel was low, and the three-member crew needed to land.
They eventually settled on Pearson Field. And Dale was there, camera in hand.
“He was practically on the bridge coming home, anyway,” Mark Denny said. “He was in the right place at the right time.”
Dale snapped photographs of the plane and crew and interviewed the pilots. He saw Gen. George C. Marshall, then the Vancouver Barracks commander, greet the pilots. He listened in on congratulatory telephone calls from President Franklin Roosevelt and Soviet leader Josef Stalin.
Though hampered by primitive equipment, Dale used his people skills to get the photographs he needed. “He asked Marshall to step out front,” Mary said. “He said, ‘I still only have my Brownie camera.’ ”
Career in radio, TV
Soon, Dale switched to radio and a job at KOIN in Portland. As news director in 1941, he pulled a message off the Teletype machine and rushed it to the anchor. By interrupting the broadcast, the station beat the national CBS network by five minutes in airing news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Dale’s job meant working early mornings and holidays. Most days, he left home before 4 a.m. and got off work at 1 p.m.
That made for strange Christmas celebrations. “As kids, we’d get up at 2:30 and we’d have Christmas,” Mark said. “And he’d go off to work and we’d go back to bed.”
Sometimes, Dale lived a big story. Covering the 1948 flood that destroyed Vanport, Ore., the high waters kept him from home.
“He had to stay at KOIN for a week until someone could fly him home,” Mark said.
Dale made the switch to television in his last few years at KOIN. He retired in 1977.
Despite his long career, Dale felt, in 1980, that he had retired too soon. “He was in pain when Mount St. Helens erupted and he was no longer in the news business,” Mark said. “He had two TVs on so he could see all the coverage.”
In his retirement, Dale dedicated himself to his church and to Northwest Harvest South, which supplies local food banks. Commitment to the less-fortunate was a running thread in Dale’s life, Mark said.
“In his prayers, he was always praying for the homeless and the hungry,” Mark said.
Mary and Dale met in a cancer support group at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Vancouver. Both lost their spouses in 1991. They married the following year and worked as a charitable team.
Two weeks before his death, Dale was still delivering the rite of communion to shut-ins. Doing simple good deeds was more satisfying to Dale than his earlier career accomplishments, Mary said.
“That was the best part of our lives,” she said.