Dennis Rickey Zabaldo, age 78, was born on July 30, 1942 and passed away peacefully on April 3, 2021, after a valiant 17-year battle with terminal cancer. He is survived by his beloved wife of 33 years Joanne (Tarpon Springs), his daughter Deana (San Francisco), his son and best friend Darrell (Tallahassee), his stepson Matthew Timmer, daughter-in-law Mary, grandson Copeland (Candler, N.C.), and his sister Antoinette (Washington D.C.). .). He was preceded in death by his parents, Rickey Zabaldo and Pauline Zabaldo Gieberich.
A lifelong resident of the Tampa Bay area, Dennis graduated from Jesuit High School and began college at the University of South Florida before leaving to work for F.W. Woolworth’s, becoming a store manager in Georgia. Dennis later returned to his native Tampa where he started a family with his first wife Marilyn, worked as partner and in sales for All State Homes, and served in the National Guard and the Army Reserves.
Dennis eventually returned to college in order to pursue his passion for anthropology and history, graduating from the University of South Florida in 1985. He spent his summers working in underwater archaeology, using his SCUBA proficiency to identify ships that the confederacy had sunk in Mobile Bay to prevent the union army ships from entering Alabama. In Tampa during the winters, Dennis worked his way up in construction and became an electrician, soon returning to Tampa full-time in order to be nearer to his children. He went back into sales, which he loved, and worked from coast to coast across Florida, selling eyewear to independent optical shops. Dennis was known for showing up to optometry offices in the early morning with a box of doughnuts to meet with doctors and technicians and learn which products were doing well and which weren’t. He earned entry into the President’s Club for top sales at the end of his first year and throughout his 7 years with the company. He eventually retired early to spend time with his family and pursue his love of travel and exploration, driving through much of the U.S. West and all the way to the northernmost point of Alaska.
In 1987, Dennis met the love of his life, his wife Joanne, while he was Scoutmaster for a Boy Scout troop in South Tampa. On their first date, Dennis took Joanne and both their sons to the Tampa [then Lowry Park] Zoo for a monkey enclosure fundraiser headlined by eponymous pop band of the ‘60s, The Monkees. Dennis and Joanne saw each other every day after that, were married 5 months later, and have been happily married for 33 years–merging families, traveling the world, and boating on Florida rivers. Dennis absorbed himself in long hours reading history, going to the gym, and in spending time with his children and family, who were his greatest joy. He had a penchant for cafe con leche with Cuban bread. He was friendly with everyone he met and always knew the name and family story of his waitress, dry cleaner, nurse, or anyone else he regularly saw. Whenever he said goodbye to family and friends, he reminded them to “Enjoy life!”
Dennis had an adventurous spirit, which took him to many places through the course of his life. He backpacked solo across the Rockies in Glacier National Park, biked a century across Florida, went big game hunting in South Africa, and made numerous road trips through Wyoming, Montana, and the western U.S. He took his son Darrell to Yellowstone in 1987 and returned again with his daughter Deana in 2003. With his wife Joanne, he visited Greece, Italy, France, Portugal, England, Scotland, Ireland, Mexico, and Honduras, and went on the trip of a lifetime exploring the Pharoah’s tombs in Egypt and cruising up the Nile. Dennis and Joanne also launched their life together with a SCUBA honeymoon in the U.S. Virgin Islands and took other live-aboard dive boat trips over the years to explore the underwater realms of Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, and Palau in Micronesia…and then went white water rafter through the Grand Canyon. At home and abroad, Dennis had an endless curiosity. Although he was by nature an introvert, he appreciated both hearing and sharing stories of lands and peoples across the world.
Dennis was a quiet warrior in his long battle with lung cancer, rarely complaining and always willing to help others deal with their diagnosis and to talk through the challenges. Philosophically, he felt the trick was to stay alive until the next new therapy was available. He participated in numerous clinical trials over the years and beat all the odds. He appreciated the wonderful doctors, nurses, and support staff at Moffitt Cancer Center throughout that time…and he knew all the nurses’ names.
No public service will be held. Memorial donations in Dennis’ honor may be made (in lieu of flowers) to the Moffitt Cancer Center Foundation [hyperlink to: Moffitt.org/Donate] (or by calling 1-800-456-3434 ext. 1403) or to your favorite charity.
To view and sign the online guestbook, please visit http://dobiesfuneralhome.com/obituary/dennis-rickey-zabaldo/