Obituary of Dennis Draper
With love and sadness, we announce that Dennis Lee Draper passed away peacefully surrounded by family on October 10, 2023. It is easy in times of loss to focus on a loved one’s passing. Our dad was intelligent, humorous and carried an undertone of mischief wherever he went. He wore many hats during his lifetime! He was not a fan of emotional displays or sentimental shenanigans and we believe that he would prefer a tribute more clever and fun. In this spirit, please join us for a tour of Dennis Draper’s hat collection…
Dad threw his hat in the ring on April 16, 1940 as son to Ellen and Woodrow Draper. He was soon followed by a sister, Dee Dee Jay, and years later the birth of two more sisters, Alfred McElwain (Marty) and Dixie Llewellin (Dave), completed the family of six. There were many pigtails to pull and teases and taunts to distribute. With all three sisters being feisty and fiery redheads, he was out-gunned and out-womaned. He surrendered to the role of loving and protective brother.
Dennis first donned a cap and gown as he graduated from Boulder High School where he was an excellent student and participated in wrestling and football. His second occasion in academic regalia was when he graduated from University of Northern Colorado (UNC) with a bachelor’s degree in social work. He then worked in various small towns throughout Colorado in positions of serving those in need. Dad was dedicated to helping others and trying to make the world a better place. He ended up working for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in Denver for 25 years ensuring quality in child-care settings and eventually designing computer programs and systems to support this important work. He was a pioneer in the process of incorporating new technologies that would become essential in providing quality early education for at-risk children throughout the state of Colorado more easily and efficiently.
It was on the UNC campus in Greeley where he met and married Diane Swenson and they raised two daughters, Tara Moll (Dave) and Kari Conroy (Don). He didn’t have time or energy for hats or fashion at this point but his hair was messy after many nights of no sleep, as is the “in” look for any new parent. Dennis was blessed with his very own pair of feisty and fiery red heads and again there were pigtails to pull and teases and taunts to distribute. He dearly loved his girls and being a father as well as dreaming up many adventures for them to experience together. It was of utmost importance to him that his daughters could start a roaring campfire quickly and easily without help from any man, which we can still accomplish effortlessly to this day! Dennis was also blessed with ANOTHER feisty and fiery redhead granddaughter, Jasper Moll, who is also a highly-competent campfire starter and she also loved her adventures with her grandfather.
Dad FULLY embraced the Irish side of his heritage. We cannot see a shamrock without thinking of him. He not only had a perfect leprechaun hat but also owned fake pointy ears, a full-on green tux with a forest-green satin cummerbund/bow tie AND curling-toed shoes to complete the look. He wore this outfit to each year’s Saint Patrick Day parade in downtown Denver. He loved (and played) Irish folk songs and knew how to do an impressive Irish jig. He would hold a Finnegan’s Wake party annually at the Denver Elks Lodge where he would personally cook a full Irish spread including homemade corned beef and soda bread. The proceeds of the event went to charity. (Side Note: Dad was an amazing cook -- chef’s hat! -- and always made delicious dishes anytime he was in the kitchen.). Dennis so loved being Irish and we are all convinced that he TRULY believed that leprechauns were real and that one day he would get his hands on that coveted pot of gold.
Dennis LOVED to put on his dancing shoes! (I know it’s not a hat…but shoes are better than the pink, feathered, Vegas-style headdress that I first envisioned – Ha Ha). It was in a dance class that he met Sandralea Birkmaier. She became his second wife and their lives were full of music and dancing. Dad was a musician and played anything with strings and he loved to sing. He dabbled with harmonica, the recorder and even tried his hand at bagpipes! Sandralea would all the while accompany him on piano. The two were very active in the Elks USA and they traveled to many lodges across America and collected more pins from each than we can count. They both held several offices and were leaders in the community. It was a place in which they loved to socialize, helped run the organization as well as donated and raised money for charitable organizations and causes. Sandralea was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2013 and Dennis was a dedicated and loving caregiver for her until she passed away in October of 2015.
In the next few years, Dennis joined an organization for widowers (Widowed Women and Men of America - WMWA) where he met his loving partner Theona Hammond-Harms. Together they filled Dad’s final years with travel, music, worship, fun and laughter. They both had leadership roles within WMWA and were always busy helping run the organization, recruiting for and managing current memberships as well as planning and attending social events. They were part of a singing group called the Yesteryear Singers that would hold performances to entertain the residents of nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. Dad was also a part of another singer’s group for men called the Colorado Cowboys.
One place Dennis would NEVER wear a hat was in church. He and Theona were congregants of two Lutheran churches, Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Northglenn and Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Wheatridge. They were actively involved with the Senior Club at Gethsemane and Forever Young at Holy Cross. They attended church every Sunday and worshipping together was an important part of their relationship.
The final hat dad wore was the helmet of a warrior. He fought a valiant battle against an aggressive form of bladder cancer. Even through the pain he experienced, he continued to hold a positive outlook. He loved to tease his nurses and joke with his daughters. When the doctors insisted that he take a short walk after surgery, he not only walked but INSISTED on a quick dance with Theona in the hallway of the hospital. Tara, Kari and Theona took loving care of him, enjoyed every moment we had with him and…at the end…helped him to transition peacefully.
In closing…we apologize in advance, Dad, for the emotional display and sentimental shenanigans to follow. We love you! We miss you already, and always! Thank you for helping us to be the strong and competent women that we have become and for teaching us to be fiercely independent with many skills that fathers don’t always think to teach their girls (our impeccable fire-starting skills are only the tip of the iceberg!). We will always think of you with much love and keep you forever in our memories. AND…we will believe with all our hearts that you DID finally get your hands on that glorious pot of gold. Say hi to the leprechauns for us!
Memorial service information to be announced…To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Dennis Draper, please visit Tribute Store