A Tribute to Denning McArthur

Denning watches the sky outside of his Ventura, Calif., home. (Photo by David LaBelle ©2007)

If we are fortunate, if we are blessed, a few people will appear in our lives at just the right time, as if angels sent from God, ushering us through the fires of our youth.

Mr. McArthur, 'Mac' as most called him, though I could never bring myself to address him so casually, was one of those angels God blessed me with at a difficult and crucial time. It frightens me to think how different my life might have been had he not allowed me into his photography class at Ventura High School in 1968. He, along with Mason French who introduced me to Jesus Christ, directly changed my life for the better and indirectly changed hundreds, maybe thousands of lives for the better.

Afflicted with polio at a young age, Mr. McArthur limped and carried a cane most of his life. But it was losing most of his sight to macular degeneration (a disease that chews away sight in the middle of the eye) that frustrated him most. For a man who loved to take pictures and look at pictures in magazines and newspapers, especially the work of the Stars photographers, not being able to the printed images the last quarter of his life seemed a cruel fate. But event that he took in stride.

Teaching photography, among other subjects, at Ventura High School for at least 30 years, Mac helped nurture the careers of photographers like Neal Barr, Bill Bullough, Dan Poush and Roxie Bogner while building a high school photography program that led the nation year after year.

Though he could be grumpy at times, and some only saw a rough exterior, he was an extremely sensitive man who cared deeply about his family and the world. And his care was always much more with action than with empty words.

I still remember the first day back at school after the terrible flood and the death of my mother in 1969. Mr. McArthur did not say much to me during class, but afterwards asked me to come by his desk. There in a cardboard box was a beautiful quilt his wife Mabel had made. Tears of gratitude gushed to my eyes and I could not talk. That was when I began learning by his example what quiet, non-pretentious love and tenderness is all about.

Through the years, especially after Mabels death, the pain in our lives drew us closer, and he became more like a father to me than just one of my teachers.We bragged on each other, teased each other and loved each other as members of a family do. The tough-acting teacher, who had showed so little emotion in the early years, shared so much at the end of his life. Sometimes it saddens me because I do not think his own family ever got to know the man I did.

Mr. McArthur was nothing in his life, if not benevolent, often contributing to dozens of charities at the same time. More than once he paid the way for several Western Kentucky students to attend workshops they otherwise would not have been able to attend. And one day during a visit at his house, he was giving away one of his very expensive riding scooters just because he heard about a man that really needed one.

Even with most of his sight gone in the end, he still saw things most did not. Ever the teacher, he continues to instruct with a spirit of compassion in all of us who were blessed to walk on this earth the same time.

I loved him as a father and I miss him everyday.

-Dave LaBelle
March, 2008

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