Obituary: Dennis Richard Michael Cahill, May 21, 1939 – August 7, 2016

Dennis passed peacefully at his Bayside home surrounded by family on Aug. 7, 2016. He had a great view of the birds in the birdfeeder and four of his six grandchildren playing in the yard.

He was born in Detroit, Michigan on May 21, 1939 to Catherine and Michael Cahill. Nine years later, in 1948, the family moved to California, which Denny believed was the “Wild West.” His new home in Humboldt County became one of his favorite places on Earth.

He entered St. Bernard’s Elementary School and went on to become a member of the first class to attend (and graduate from) St. Bernard’s High School, where he served as student body president and played many sports. He was always proud of being an SB alumnus (Class of ’57).

OBIT.Cahill.DennisHe was also strong in his Catholic faith and briefly considered joining the priesthood. He attended Mt. Angel Seminary in Oregon for two years before transferring to Humboldt State University as biology major with a history minor. There, he played football and was elected student body president his senior year.

Denny stayed at HSU to work on his teaching credential, and taught his first classes at St. Bernard’s Elementary School. He also earned his MA in Marine Biology. He fondly recalled his professors and classes for the rest of his life.

During this time, he met “the former Arcata High cheerleader” Pam Davis at a Thursday night sock hop. He was so smitten he followed her down south when she transferred to CSU San Jose. They were married on Aug. 14, 1965. He taught biology at Overfelt High School in San Jose for five years.

He and Pam discovered their love of backpacking, joining the Sierra Club and touring the American West in their Volkswagen van, visiting national parks from Yosemite to Yellowstone.

When San Jose grew too crowded, they returned to Humboldt County, and Denny took a job at Eureka High School. He held that position for 36 years and missed it after his retirement. He inspired thousands of students with his philosophy that science should be fun and meaningful for everyone. His favorite class was marine biology, and he loved introducing students to the amazing ocean right in their backyard. He was citizen scientist and amateur historian who eagerly participated in wildlife studies, took classes, and visited historical sites throughout his life. He could often be found canoeing, biking, or hiking around the county (look for his bench at the Arcata Marsh).

He also gave to his community in many ways, from serving as a coach and school board member to volunteering at church, fighting fires with Cal Fire, and pushing for safe bike lanes. He restored the Eureka High bird collection and established the Hall of Ornithology at the school.

His family was the center of his life and he was a loving husband, father, brother, cousin, uncle and grandfather. He taught us many lessons, told many jokes (often more than once), and bestowed important words of wisdom on us.

He was preceded in death by his parents and his brother Paul Cahill. He is survived by his loving wife, Pamela Davis Cahill, his daughter Cathleen Denise Cahill and her husband Andrew K. Sandoval-Strausz; his daughter Christine Disbrow, and her husband Bill Disbrow; his son Kevin Cahill, and his wife Christine Cahill, as well as his six grandchildren Cecilia and Lincoln Sandoval-Strausz, Ila and Denise Disbrow, and Sean and Kacie Rose Cahill; his sister Cathy and brother-in- law Ron Maher, sister Sally and brother-in- law Pete Tannenbaum, and many nieces and nephews.

Friends of Dennis are invited to join us on Saturday, Sept. 10 to celebrate his life. A funeral mass will be held at noon at St. Bernard Catholic Church and a memorial reception will follow at the St. Bernard Parish Hall at 1 p.m. In lieu of flowers, we have established the Dennis Cahill Memorial Scholarship Fund through the Humboldt Area Foundation. It will support scholarships and research in the field of marine and wildlife biology, and his legacy as a teacher will live on for new generations.

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