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Chico State

Fond Farewell: Retired Instructional Media Center Technician Dennis Yarnell

The sun sets amongst clouds, buildings, and trees
(Jason Halley / University Photographer)

Retired staff member Dennis Yarnell, who served the University in the Instructional Media Center for 35 years, passed away on September 6. He was 76.

Yarnell was born July 26, 1946, in Oakland, and was raised in Redding by his grandparents Norbert and Hazel King. After graduating high school, Yarnell spent four years in the Air Force and was stationed in Southern California. Following his military service, Yarnell worked at various TV stations throughout Northern California before joining Chico State in 1974 in the Instructional Media Center (IMC).

Dennis Yarnell

In the decades that followed, Yarnell is credited with being instrumental in maintaining and updating the technology used in classrooms. During his tenure, he saw a transformation in the field of instructional technology, including the move from 35mm to VHS to digital. His passion for his profession was matched by his work ethic and desire to share his knowledge with others. Colleagues said Yarnell loved and was proud of working at the University. For many years after his retirement in 2009, he continued helping with new technology and instructional media issues, including the installation of equipment in the new Arts and Humanities Building.

When retired IMC technician Larry Schmunk met Yarnell while serving on his hiring committee, he admits he had his doubts about how long the new hire would stay at the University. He was pleasantly surprised to be wrong in his assumption.

“Once Dennis found a job at Chico State, he loved what he did and stayed for the rest of his work life,” he said.

Schmunk, who became Yarnell’s brother-in-law when Yarnell married Schmunk’s sister-in-law, said Yarnell was so dedicated to improving classroom technology that he would at times work all through the night to get the equipment installed and ready to go by the time the first class started. It was deeply important to him that instructors had the technology they needed to teach.

Over the years, Yarnell assisted retired theatre professor Randy Wonzong with any technical problem he encountered. Wonzong said after Yarnell finished a job, he would always follow up to see if everything had been done satisfactorily. Skilled at his job and modest about his accomplishments, Yarnell was a valued member of the University community.

“He was especially kind in dealing with us who were far less knowledgeable about tech and enjoyed teaching us the basics of what we needed to know,” he said. “Dennis was a kind and calm presence in any situation. . . . He never wanted to take credit for or expected thanks for a job well done.”

Yarnell was the quintessential “gadget guy,” and liked learning about the latest technology, said Dave Abbott, retired associate director of Academic Technologies. More importantly, he was enjoyable to be around, happy, and upbeat.

“He was a straight-up kind of guy and had a great sense of humor,” Abbott said.

Retired instructional support technician Stephen McDermott and Yarnell became fast friends in the 1970s when McDermott enrolled as a student at Chico State. The two men were amateur radio enthusiasts, which helped cement their decades-long friendship. In 2018 when McDermott contacted Yarnell on his radio as he fled from the Camp Fire, his friend opened his home to him.

“He was a very fair, non-judgmental man, and if he could do something to help you, he would,” McDermott said.  

The last time the two saw each other, Yarnell hugged McDermott while telling him he considered him a brother.

“And I thought of him as a brother, too,” McDermott said.

In his spare time and after retirement, Yarnell enjoyed spending time with friends and his hobby of amateur radio. He had developed an interest in ham radios as a boy, and with the help of a teacher, he passed the ham radio test to earn his license at 12 years old. It became a hobby for the rest of his life, and he enjoyed purchasing ham radio equipment. He also attended monthly gatherings with a group of other amateur radio enthusiasts in Butte County.

Yarnell is survived by his wife, Jayne Yarnell, and stepson Jacob Honan. There is no memorial service planned.

The University flag will be lowered Thursday, November 3, in his honor.