Dennis Boggs – A Tribute

Dennis Lawrence Boggs. Valley News/Courtesy photo

Dennis Lawrence Boggs passed away at Loma Linda Hospital in Riverside County, California, April 10, 2023, at age 79. Having grown up in a military family – his father was a Navy officer who was on the battleship Tennessee when Pearl Harbor was attacked and served in World War II as well as Korea – Dennis had lived in many towns and cities across the United States in the early years of his life.

He continued a life of movement, travel, and resourcefulness until the very end of his life. His last years were spent in Murrieta and Menifee, California, where he lived with his wife Elizabeth (Betsy), surrounded by relatives.

Dennis was born at Cottage Hospital, Santa Barbara, California, on Oct. 31, 1943, along with twin sister Barbara. While father Carl was deployed for nearly four years in the Pacific Theater of World War II, mother Harriett (whose father had just retired to Santa Barbara) relocated the family to the Montecito suburb from 1942 to 1946.

Residing in one of the wealthiest communities in the United States, the Boggs family was able to survive on a modest Navy income, adjacent to all their rich neighbors including a long list of Hollywood celebrities. When a beautiful – and widely-displayed – photo of twins Dennis and Barbara was published in the Santa Barbara News-Press, it won immediate acclaim. It was photo of the year in 1944.

From sunny and affluent Santa Barbara, the Boggs family moved and moved, as is customary for military families – to upstate New York, Norfolk, Virginia, Boston, San Diego (three locations) and then, finally, to Ventura County, California where the father retired and the three Boggs children attended high school.

In 1962, Dennis and Barbara graduated from Hueneme High School near Oxnard. While there, Dennis became an all-star first baseman, the most outstanding hitter on the team and said to be one of the best players ever at Hueneme. His coach, Jerry White, was a baseball teammate of brother Carl, Jr. a few years earlier at Oxnard High. Dennis would further exhibit his first-rate baseball skills at Ventura College and then in the U.S. Army.

Dennis worked for many years as a psychiatric nurse in California, first at Camarillo State Hospital – an institution long known for its excellent history of treating drug addicts and alcoholics – and then at Sonoma State Hospital in Glen Ellen, where Dennis lived for about 15 years.

In his employment capacity at these institutions, Dennis brought multiple social and technical skills, much needed in an environment where patients would be admitted with many (often severe) psychological afflictions.

After several years at Camarillo, Dennis had joined the Army – more specifically, the Army Security Agency (ASA), which operated as an adjunct to the National Security Agency (NSA). At the ASA, Dennis served for one year as communications specialist in Vietnam, stationed near Bien Hoa, followed by a longer deployment to Bad Aibling, West Germany (near Munich).

As a Vietnam veteran, Dennis was deeply impacted by his wartime exposure to the untold death and destruction in that country. That experience would live with him forever and shape his social outlook. He came to oppose war and everything it represented.

The middle name given to Dennis – Lawrence – was in honor of his father’s ill-fated brother, who at age 18 was killed by a marauding car in Cincinnati, Ohio as the two brothers were delivering milk supplies to their neighborhood. With his father also having passed away and the family mired in poverty, the remaining brother (Carl) decided to join the Navy at age 17 to help stave off further economic ruin.

Throughout his working years, Dennis cherished travel and all the adventures that came with it. In later years, he and wife Betsy embarked on trips to many regions of the U.S., often driving by car, taking in local restaurants, tourist attractions, out-of-the-way sights, baseball parks, and more.

Over time Dennis considered it something of an achievement to have visited as many major-league ballparks as possible. Dennis and Betsy also enjoyed life on cruise boats, from Alaska to the Caribbean.

Dennis was a great lover not only of travel and baseball but of music – especially Texas music where it was not unusual for diverse traditions (country, blues, rock, swing) to merge into one explosive cultural form. He was especially attracted to Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, and often visited Luckenbach with its ongoing spirited concerts and festivals.

He particularly enjoyed any kind of swing music and loved the old films featuring that music. In his earlier years Dennis had played both guitar and banjo at professional levels, as solo performer and with bands.

The relationship that Dennis and Betsy had celebrated for more than 20 years could only be described as truly remarkable, something out of a magical tale or fantasy. The two had met and developed a close relationship during the late 1960s, when they seemed headed for marriage – but things did not work out as planned at the time. But things did in fact work out later – no less than 30 years later, when in storybook fashion they somehow met again, reconnected, and finally had their wedding in Reno, Nevada. The marriage would last until Dennis passed away in April.

During his youth (in the 1950s and early 1960s), Dennis had taken a strong liking to such TV programs as “The Honeymooners” and the star Jackie Gleason. For years and even decades we would humorously refer back to those distant, yet iconic, moments.

Gleason’s TV wife for the “Honeymooners” series was Audrey Meadows, whose autobiography titled “Love, Alice” is worth reading. At the very end of her book Meadows wrote, referring to the larger-than-life Gleason: “To me, he was that rarity that women seem to see less and less – a very gentle man.” That same personal quality could be applied to the very special life of Dennis Lawrence Boggs.

Dennis is survived by his wife Betsy, of Menifee; his brother Carl, Jr. of West Los Angeles, and his sister Barbara Taft and niece Denise Roady, both of Branson, Missouri.