December 14, 2018

Dennis Storer: 1932-2007

 

Dennis Storer, a Topanga resident for more than 40 years, died peacefully in his home on Observation on Saturday, September 8, after a long battle with cancer. Storer was well known internationally in sports circles as a great sportsman and as the coach of championship soccer and rugby teams at the University of California at Los Angeles, as well as for his commitment to helping underprivileged youth. Storer helped elevate both programs from club sports to National College Athletic Association competitive teams drawing scholarship students from around the world.

Storer was born on April 6, 1932, in Birmingham, England, and was educated at London University and Loughborough College, England, before coming to the United States. He served as a captain in the British Army's Royal Engineers, and later worked as a sports commentator for Anglia Television while in Britain. He came to the United States in 1965 to work on his master's degree at University of Southern California, then stayed to complete his doctorate in education at the UCLA, where Storer, a kinesiologist, began a remarkably successful career as a member of the UCLA faculty and head coach of the UCLA soccer and rugby programs.

Storer was named head coach after the UCLA soccer club was elevated to NCAA status in 1967. Although the soccer team did not field any scholarship players during his tenure, UCLA had three NCAA runner-up finishes, three West Coast Championships, and five All-Cal titles and racked up an amazing 103-10-10 record while Storer was at their helm from 1967 to 1973.

Storer's UCLA rugby teams did even better, posting an overall record of 362-46-2 against collegiate, major club and international teams, and winning national championships in 1968, 1972 and 1975, with Storer as their coach from 1966 through 1982. UCLA Rugby also won every All-Cal title and six Southern California Division championships during Storer's tenure. According to some rugby experts, the success of Storer's Bruins team, as well as All-Cal rugby teams he coached on tours of New Zealand, Australia and England, awakened the international rugby community to the possibilities of rugby in the United States; the respect gained by the teams collegiate-level teams Storer coached in international competition gained the respect of the Rugby Football Union, eventually leading to the establish of a National Rugby Union in America.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF DOROTHY STORER

Dennis Storer: 1932-2007

Dennis Storer in 1994 was honored by Queen Elizabeth II by naming him to the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his service in British/American Education, Sport and Commerce.



Thus, it was little surprise that when in 1976 the United States of America Rugby Football Union formed the first American national rugby team, nicknamed the Eagles, to represent the U.S. in international competitions, they turned to Dennis Storer to help form and coach it. Storer thus gained the distinction of being the "first American rugby coach." "Storer is truly a man that all in USA Rugby should remember for his contributions," said USA Rugby in regard to his passing. Though still a relatively minor force in international rugby, Storer helped prepare the U.S. team for its first test in Anaheim against Australia in 1976 and remained coach of the Eagles through 1982.

According to a statement released by UCLA Rugby, in 1978, Storer said: "I didn't want to become a pro coach, I consider myself to be basically an educator. I don't see rugby becoming a sport played by professional athletes. It is a game that has appeal to all who play it, a sport that is played for the fun of it."

By all accounts, Storer taught his charges much more than how to play their sport successfully. After doctors broke the news that there was not much more to be done for Storer, who suffered from an inoperable brain tumor, many of his colleagues and former charges made the trek up Oberservation to say good-bye to their old friend and mentor. One hundred and fifty-two people filled the house last April to honor his seventy-fifth birthday. His very first soccer team was among those who made the journey. Time and again, says Dorothy, she has heard his former athletes say, "He taught me how to be a man."

PHOTOS COURTESY OF DOROTHY STORER

Dennis Storer: 1932-2007

Storer with wife Dorothy at their home on Observation during his 75th birthday celebration earlier this year.



Storer will be remembered for his generosity of spirit. "He always gave people the benefit of the doubt, even if people sometimes behaved not as well as he would have liked. He never let disappointment get in the way." After the Los Angeles riots, Storer was moved to create "Spirit of Youth Foundation," an organization which takes groups of underprivileged youth from the United States to Great Britain and similarly situated youth form the United Kingdom to the U.S Storer also served as Director of UCLA's National Youth Sports Programs from 1968 -1982.

Storer moved to Topanga shortly after beginning his career in Westwood, with his first wife Hillevi. Hillevi, who was born in Sweden, worked at Topanga Elementary School, and loved the local community; Storer was willing to give it a try. Together, they raised three children, Gareth, Anna-Kristina, and Maria, here.

Though Hillevi eventually moved away after her marriage to Storer dissolved, Storer remained in the small town he had grown to love. In 1978, he married Dorothy, whom he had met 22 years previously when both where in university in London. Coming from London, Dorothy was unsure whether she could make the adjustment to country life in Topanga, and for a time, they tried renting an apartment in suburban West Los Angeles as a compromise. "It didn't last long," says Dorothy. "He loved Topanga. He loved the peace; he loved the quiet; he loved the neighbors; he loved almost every aspect of life in Topanga."

Storer's neighbors return the sentiment. "He really made my day whenever he came over," says Donna Dorsey, who knew the Storers closely for about 15 years. "He had a great smile, great stories. He was always so warm and friendly. He had a great many honors, but they never affected him. He was just a kind, nice man. Dorothy and Dennis had a great many parties at their house and they always invited the neighbors. It was always enjoyable to be in their presence."

Deborah Nellis, also a neighbor agrees. "One could not walk through their front door without an immediate 'how about a cup o' tea' accompanied by some stimulating conversation with 'Den.' ... Dennis loved his home, Topanga, and I believe one of his very favorite things in life was to show visitors the breathtaking view from the Storer deck." Wife Dorothy also says the deck proved a place of solace in Storer's final months, as the couple would sit outside together and absorb the peace and beauty of the mountain views.

Much as he loved Topanga, Storer never cut his ties to the country of his birth. He always maintained his British human, subtle and understated, says Dorothy, and other Topangans similarly remember his impeccable dress and gentlemanly manner, say friends Michele Acker and Katherine Campbell. Storer maintained an apartment in Britain, where he and his wife traveled often. He was a founding member of the British Community Advisory Board, as well as of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts/Los Angeles and served on its board of directors for many years. When the Olympics came to Los Angeles in 1984, Storer served for two years as the British Olympic Association's Executive Director and Attache in the U.S. He was also active in the British-American Business Council in Los Angeles, serving as executive director of the group from 1990 until 2002, and as an executive advisor and ex officio board member thereafter. In 1994, Queen Elizabeth II honored Storer by naming him to the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his service in British/American Education, Sport and Commerce. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 1999.

In 2005, Storer was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Queen's Birthday Ball in Los Angeles. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger commented in particular on Storer's work with the Spirit of Youth Foundation to "create opportunities for at-risk teens in America and the United Kingdom."

Just last year,