Vetra “Tommy” Denis – Turlock Journal


He passed from this world on Thursday morning, a great benefactress and great Lady known to many.

In the early morning hours of January 6, Vetra “Tommy” Denis passed away quietly in her sleep at her home in Stevinson, California at the age of 94. Tommy was born with blonde hair and blue eyes as Vetra Balentine. She was born April 19, 1927, in Hominy, OK, to mother Edna Amzilla Lunsford and father Bert B. Balentine. She moved with her mother and sisters from Oklahoma in the early 1940s, to escape poverty and find opportunity in what was then a booming California.

Married on May 12, 1946, she was predeceased by her beloved husband, Frank Benjamin Denis; himself born on September 16, 1928 in Escalon, California. Tommy and Frank were permanent residents of Turlock after their marriage and were prominent members of the regional business community, having established, owned and operated businesses such as Denis Dodge, Cal Neva Slush Company, Barrel Inn Liquors general stores and others. They were also active in real estate development throughout California, parts of Nevada, and even Hawaii.

With a deep affection for horticulture and greenery throughout her life, Tommy has always enjoyed working in and around, and wandering among the many gardens she has created over her years. During the construction of Turlock’s first entertainment center, The Divine Gardens, Tommy was instrumental in the creation and installation of all landscaping on the property. She was particularly proud of the main fountain garden which was the centerpiece and namesake of the establishment.

She has traveled to many parts of the world and visited places such as Portugal, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Italy, Spain, Bermuda, Rio De Janeiro, Mexico, etc. At one point, she even spent some time with her husband living in Hawaii part-time before eventually settling into his country home in Stevinson, where she would spend her final days surrounded by family.

Tommy had an active, charismatic and generous personality, which led her to lead a dynamic and exciting life of constant activity. At the same time, she had little patience for self-pity and the “can’t” mindset. She was an avid reader and occasionally reflected on her deep interest in school in her early years. She regretted not being able to go to school beyond 8th grade, as times were very difficult after the Great Depression and during the “dust bowl” era of the 1930s. So much more can be said about this great, pious and strong-willed Christian lady, but words can never replace good memories. She will always be deeply missed and remembered with love.

Tommy is survived by two of his six sisters, Clara Smith of Fresno, CA, and Gloria Becker of Hughson, CA; of his four children, Bruce Denis, Sherry Wilson (Reagan), Karen Kitchell (Mike) and Frank Denis, Jr. (Wendy); by eight of his nine grandchildren, Brett Bodine, Andrea Bodine-Edwards, Carrie Dompe, Sean Dompe, Melissa Gonsalves, Melinda Toy, Ryan Denis and Jarrett Killough; and by many great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews and friends.

A memorial service will be held at 10:30 a.m., Tuesday, January 25, 2022, at Turlock Funeral Home, 425 N. Soderquist Rd., Turlock.


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