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.