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Resident recalls a life of travel, finding her spirit

Vi at La Jolla Village resident Gale Dennison has always brimmed with wanderlust. Whether serving in the Women’s Army Corps with her mother and sister, working as a flight attendant for TWA, or piloting solo expeditions across country by plane, Ms. Dennison repeatedly blazed trails while following her heart. “People call me brave, but I never thought of myself as being brave. I was just doing what I wanted to do,” she said.

Ms. Dennison’s adventurous spirit led her to take flying lessons and then attempt a cross-country flight by herself. “I got lost, ran out of gas and went down in Texas in a muddy plowed field. In Texas they called the mud ‘black gumbo.’ The wheels couldn’t move, the plane nosed over and the prop got bent. I headed for the farmhouse near where I had gone down but my shoes got so heavy with mud I had to take them off and carry them. My socks got swallowed up in the mud and they are still in Texas!”

Despite the scare, Ms. Dennison retains a love of flying to this day. “I’ve flown in a hot air balloon, gone parasailing and went hang gliding at Torrey Pines. I’ve ridden in a Goodyear Blimp, a glider and an ultralight. But I haven’t jumped out of a plane…yet.”

At the age of 57, after raising two sons alongside her husband Larry, and receiving two degrees in choral conducting from The Julliard School, Ms. Dennison decided it was time for another solo trip, this time by motorhome. “In marriage, I felt I was part of a package. I needed to become my own person. I also wanted to see some of the country so I told my husband Larry that I was buying a motor home so that I could drive my home around and find myself.”  

Alone with just her thoughts and a motorhome, she headed south and got lost almost immediately. “It’s something I have done all my life. I have no sense of direction! Larry once said, ‘It’s an adventure being married to you – you go to the grocery store and I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again!’ On this trip I was gone two years but we visited one another and talked on the phone often.”

Her journey included stops in Sanibel Island and over the border into Mexico. She spent three months on Hilton Head Island simply because its name piqued her interest while looking at a map. “I was doing whatever I wanted to do. I felt free.”

Many of the people she met couldn’t believe that she was traveling alone. For Ms. Dennison, the trip wasn’t as much about sightseeing as it was about finding her own identity. Although she didn’t have a final destination in mind from the start, Ms. Dennison knew what she was searching for. “I kept telling people I was looking for the ideal climate — not too hot, not too cold. Of course, everyone without exception told me ‘You’re looking for San Diego.’ That’s how I happened to come here.

“For the next few years, Larry and I had a long distance marriage, he stayed in New York and I moved to San Diego.” The couple traveled back and forth to spend time together.

After living in 13 states and 30-some-odd cities and towns, and traveling extensively around the country and abroad, Gale Dennison has now settled down at Vi at La Jolla Village. “I’ve always been a bit of a loner and I don’t socialize easily, but I’ve made some good friends here. Coming here was the right thing to do at the right time in my life.” 
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