John O’Dea

On July 1, 2021, John O’Dea joined Marjory June Kumor, his wife of 66 years, and sons Kevin and Brian, in Heaven, surrounded by family and CareTeam members who provided comfort, joy and companionship the past eight years at home. John was born May 1923 on the Koch family farm near Sumatra, MT; where wild critters and sagebrush outnumbered people, and still do. John grew up through the Depression and daily survival struggles. His father George O’Dea died before John was 8, leaving his mother, Anna Koch O’Dea, with five young boys to raise; including brothers George, Tony and Paul of MT, and Francis of SD. John learned early to do a lot with a little. As a young man, he came to realize, with deep gratitude, that the little place in MT had forged a man of character with a very Fortunate Life. A perpetual smile played over John’s countenance whenever he looked back, never in bitterness, but in thankfulness.

Through high school work programs, John learned telegraphy and station agent work, so upon graduation in 1941, he started with Milwaukee Railroad; the next two years, he worked jobs (tricks) from Mobridge, SD to Tacoma WA. As many others did, John enlisted in the Army in 1943, using his RR experience to specialize in communications. While stationed at Denver’s Buckley Field in early 1944, he fell ill with Rheumatic Fever and was hospitalized for almost a year. When released, he was assigned to Fort Carson Gen Hosp, Colorado Springs. Here John met Marjory at a USO dance. Honorably discharged Feb 1946, John returned to Milwaukee RR in Ellensburg, WA where he and Marjory married in 1946. Son Dennis was born there a year later. With the GI Bill, John graduated from Central Wash College in Education, then attended Stanford Univ. in Accounting and Education, receiving Master’s Degree in 1951. Daughter Marian arrived shortly before graduation

The next Chapter of John’s Fortunate Life begins at Santa Barbara, CA in 1951 where John accepted a teaching position at Santa Barbara HS/ Junior College in their Business/Accounting Dept. on its Santa Barbara St. campus. As SBCC grew in size, expanding its curriculum and prestige, it moved from Santa Barbara St., to the Riviera and, in 1959 to its present location on the Mesa. There were changes in the O’Dea family also with the arrival of Kevin (1956) and Brian (1959). John was with SB City College for 35 years, serving as Business Dept. Chair 1956-1963, retiring in 1985. He primarily taught Accounting, developing computerized spreadsheets in lieu of hand-prepared ones long before software was a classroom requirement. John loved having former students stop by for visits. Most continued their education for Bachelor’s/Master’s degrees; many started their own accounting firms. At least one currently teaches at SBCC. In 2018, John was recognized with fellow former Dept. Chairs John Flynn and Merle Taylor with ceremony and plaque at current Business-Communications Building.

Fortunately for John and family, he had a second vocation. From 1951 thru 1979, the O’Dea family spent summers in Yellowstone National Park, WY. John loved his National Park Ranger job of law enforcement and medical aid, search and rescue, firefighting, long forays via horseback into backcountry wilderness, helping visitors both survive and enjoy Park resources, and wildlife protection (including capture and relocation of grizzly bears!). John’s Yellowstone summer stories would fill whole chapters by themselves! John and his family enjoyed WY summers immensely; and John happily resumed teaching at SBCC each fall, refreshed and invigorated.

In 1988, John and Marjory spent almost a year in Australia/New Zealand when John was selected as Visiting Fellow for his computer applications in accounting. They also traveled throughout the US including Alaska and Hawaii; and Canada, Europe, and Israel. Both enjoyed Bowling at SB Lawn Bowls Club; were longtime members, with John Club President for a number of years. They helped establish Holy Cross Church parish on the Mesa in the early ‘70s; John served on their finance committee. Though it has changed dramatically, John felt fortunate to live in Santa Barbara the past 70 years. John often said he made at least two important decisions during his Fortunate Life. The first, marrying Marjory in 1946, and second, accepting John Flynn’s invitation to join SB Junior College in 1951, beginning a rewarding 35 years as College Professor, while continuing the different but equally rewarding summer sojourns as Park Ranger for almost 30 years. John survived whooping cough as an infant, rheumatic fever as a WWII Soldier, and cancer in his 90s, but not the isolation and ‘broken’ heart of the last couple of years. John truly lived a Fortunate Life – inseparable from the character that emerged long ago from the Montana sagebrush country.

John is survived by son Dennis and daughter Marian, 12 grandchildren, 17 great-grandchildren, 4 great-great-grandchildren, numerous nieces, nephews scattered throughout CA, MT, WY, OR, WA, FL, and elsewhere. He is preceded in death by wife Marjory, sons Kevin and Brian, and his four brothers. Friends are encouraged to share memories and/or pictures in person or email to

(Obiturary originally appeared in the Santa Barbara News Press on July 25)