By Tanya Dennis
Curlee Dennis, affectionately known as Denise to close friends, passed peacefully in her sleep on May 31st . Mrs. Dennis was the wife of building contractor Benjamin Dennis. Together they built a real estate empire in the Berkeley-Oakland area.
Mrs. Dennis graduated from Tennessee State University with a BA in Education and from San Francisco State University where she received her MA degree. She was a teacher in the San Pablo School District for over thirty years, and Real Estate agent for S.B. Odell. Mrs. Dennis also graduated from Hastings Law School in 1960 and was former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown’s “study buddy.”
Mrs. Dennis was the co-founder of the C’est La Vie social club, one of the oldest African American Social Clubs in the Bay Area who last year celebrated their 60th year.
In 1968, Mrs. Dennis appeared in the premiere performance of the newly founded Black Repertory Theater in Berkeley. She played the role of “Missy” in the play Purlie Victorious. She was also a writer, an avid water color artist and dabbled in ceramics.
Mrs. Dennis was one of the first African-American run-way models in the Bay Area and was the first African-American model for the iconic Irene Sargent who owned an up-scale department store in downtown Oakland.
She was featured in the Post Newspaper regarding her world travels in 1963. She also appeared in Maureen Bee’s (Velda Berkley) Society Pages, and “Faces around the Bay”. She was often featured in the San Francisco Sun Reporter. She also wrote a column in the Bayviewer Magazine.
Mrs. Dennis, a history and home economics teacher at Walter T. Helms Middle school in San Pablo was a proponent of teaching African American history before it was popular. As a life-time member of the NAACP she was actively involved in the Civil Rights movement in the ‘60’s.
She leaves two daughters; Brenda Harris Lugo and Tanya Denise Dennis, three grandchildren; Deja Williams, Erica Alexis, and Alexsandra Verlin, and two great grandchildren; Skye Williams and Devin Williams, C’est La Vie Club Members and many friends to mourn her passing.
The quiet hour will be held Friday at McNary-Morgan-Greene & Jackson Mortuary at 36th and Telegraph from 6pm-8pm and the Memorial Service will be on Saturday at the same location at 11:00 a.m.