Las Cruces Sun News
16 Jan 2009
Dennis "Woody" Woodard, a gifted musician, artist, teacher and extraordinary husband, brother and friend, died unexpectedly of a heart attack on Jan. 11, 2009 while working in his yard.
He was 61.
A popular fourth-grade teacher at Hillrise Elementary School, "Woody" was elated about the birth of his first grandchild and was planning to travel to Sacramento, California the following weekend so he could hold little Sasha Bella Woodard in his arms.
Born in Clovis, Woody spent his formative years in Ventura California, a small coastal town where he fished, surfed and hung out with his many friends.
A track star at Buena High School, Woody held the record for the 440-yard run for decades after his graduation in 1965, a feat that would bring a wry smile to his face for years to come.
He met Cathleen Straley, his soul mate and the love of his life, in 1975, and the couple married in 1979.
Woody was a modern-day Renaissance man who was fluent in Spanish, could play any instrument (the guitar, piano, banjo, mandolin) draw, paint, cook and even sew. In fact, he had just completed a quilt for baby Sasha a few days before his death.
He was an avid composer, writing his own music and operas that his fourth graders would perform. He loved his students, and he loved teaching. Woody was himself a life-long student, always embracing new ideas and technology. Before his death, Woody was studying web design to bring his creativity to the new frontier of cyberspace.
Woody's death from a heart attack was especially hard for his students, friends and family to comprehend. He was an avid exercise enthusiast who worked out at the gym several times a week, rode bicycles, swam, meditated and ate a heart-healthy diet.
He was digging up some tree roots that had encroached into his home's foundation when he succumbed to the heart attack. A stubborn, proud and thrifty Woodard to the end, he had refused to hire someone else to take on the heavy chore.
Woody was a very spiritual person, and was very happy and at peace with God when he died.
Many people work away their days with the dream of living once they retire. Woody lived every day as if it was his last.
During his summer vacations from school, he would venture by train and bus deep into Mexico, where he would converse with the locals and stay for weeks at a time. Last summer, he traveled to China, and had an astonishing experience teaching English to college students.
After school on an average work day, Woody would come home to compose his music, teach himself web design or socialize with his wife and vast network of friends.
Woody is preceded in death by his parents Richard and Verda Woodard of Ventura.
He is survived by his wife Cathleen Straley, of Las Cruces; son James, daughter-in-law Maria Quinones and granddaughter Sasha Bella Woodard, brothers Richard, Ross and Chris Woodard; sister Susan Lane and numerous nieces and nephews.
The students and staff of Hillrise Elementary School are planning a special memorial service for their beloved teacher and co-worker on January 22, 2009 at 6:00pm. The community is welcome to attend.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to Hillrise Elementary School PTO at 1400 S. Curnutt, Las Cruces, NM 88011.