Dolores Degnan, 'rummage queen' and town historian, dies at 80 | February 27, 2019 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


Community - February 27, 2019

Dolores Degnan, 'rummage queen' and town historian, dies at 80

by Barbara Wood

Dolores Degnan, who moved to Woodside soon after her first birthday and lived in and loved the town for the rest of her life, died on Feb. 19 of complications from liver cancer at the age of 80.

Services will be held on Sunday, March 24, at 2 p.m. in the Woodside Village Church Sanctuary, 3154 Woodside Road.

Rummage queen

Dolores Degnan led the Woodside Village Church rummage sale for decades, often managing more than 100 volunteers who gathered two or three times a year raising as much as $50,000 a year for the church and charities it supported. Degnan started working at the sale as a child with her mother, became head of the sale's boutique nearly 55 years ago, and had headed the entire sale for nearly 35 years, with major support for decades from Sharon Aissa and David Bean, church members from San Francisco.

The church gave her its "It takes a Village" award in early February, naming her "Church Matriarch and Rummage Queen."

Cutty Smith, a real estate agent with Sotheby's International, volunteered with Degnan at the rummage sale for 20 years, at first during visits to family even before moving to Woodside from North Carolina.

"She was uniquely kind and opening to new people," Smith said of Degnan, adding that she was "abundantly optimistic about turning what could be a pile of old leftovers into a glorious boutique."

Degnan's tireless hard work inspired many others to do the same. "It was amazing so many of us weren't even members of the church," Smith said.

Bob Mullen, who knew Degnan from her childhood, said she was "a treasure at church heading up the Women's Fellowship" as well as the rummage sale. "She had a marvelous touch with flower arranging, both at church and for community events," Mullen said.

History expert

Both Smith and Mullen served on the Woodside History Committee with Degnan. She joined the committee in 1998, also serving terms on the town's livestock and recreation committees.

Her ability to remember the scenes of her youth in Woodside, down to details such as the furnishing of a home she'd been in as a child or how many horses their barn housed, amazed other committee members.

Jackie Young, the town's planning director and staff liaison to the History Committee, said Degnan's "deep knowledge of town history was invaluable, and she was always as delighted to share it as we were to hear it. She was consummately collegial and a great communicator."

Young said she will most miss Degnan's "warm smile, contagious enthusiasm, positive and grateful spirit, and her tireless efforts to build community and to always be part of the solution."

Move to Woodside

Born on January 27, 1939, in Winnetka, Illinois, to Thelma (Galliano) and William Wilke, Dolores and her family moved to Woodside in 1940, where her father was the caretaker of the Stanley G. Harris estate at 384 Mountain Home Road.

In those days Woodside had fewer than 400 residents, Degnan recently remembered, with most of them either being the residents of large estates or those who worked at or provided services for the estates.

Dolores' father taught her to hunt and to fish, which in those days could be done in the creeks running through Woodside, and to drive a tractor.


She started at Woodside Elementary School — which then had no kindergarten — a year early at age 5, went on to Menlo-Atherton High School, the College of San Mateo and dental hygiene school in the San Francisco College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Jim Degnan met Dolores on a blind date, and the two were married in June 1961, the first couple to be married in the Woodside Village Church's new sanctuary.

Dolores, Jim says, insisted on living in Woodside, so they bought their first home on Otis Street in the Woodside Glens neighborhood just before they were married.

In addition to working as a dental hygienist, Degnan spent more than a decade working at Degnan's Printing — founded by Jim's father in 1953 — had a florist business, and shared a stall in an antique co-op in San Carlos with Lorrie Goben.

Horses, dogs and cats

Degnan loved animals, with her favorites being horses, dogs and cats. She began riding her neighbor's horse as a toddler, joining Woodside's Junior Riders at age 7 a year after it was founded, under "Milo" Miloradovitch. She got her first horse at 10, "so then I was free as a bird, rode it all over," Degnan recently said.

She also loved to garden, and in the fourth of her Woodside homes transformed what had been a barren walnut orchard and tiny patch of lawn with a view out to Canada Road and the freeway into an oasis of lush plantings, garden rooms, structures and decorations.

Dolores and Jim Degnan were active in many of the Woodside community theater productions directed by the late George Sellman, with one of her favorite parts being a "Pick-a-Little Lady" in "Music Man."

Cutty Smith summed up Dolores Degnan this way: "She loved horses all her life. She loved animals, anything gardens, rummage, the history. She loved olives in her martinis when she drank."

Degnan is survived by her husband of 57 years, Jim; sons and daughters-in-law Jeff and Jeannine and Mark and Monica Degnan, all of Woodside; and grandchildren Michael, Kaitlin, Bradley and Emily.

The family requests donations in lieu of flowers to Pets In Need,; or the Woodside Village Church.

Note: In the weeks before her death, Dolores Degnan shared many of her memories of growing up in Woodside with Barbara Wood, and those stories will be the focus of an upcoming Almanac story.


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