By Kyah Corff
SYV Star Intern
For 20 years, Marj and Dennis Kocher have volunteered their artistic talents to give Santa Ynez Valley Union High School’s football team a sense of pride and accomplishment.
The room is painted black and orange (the school’s colors) and its school spirit serves as a symbol for the community’s Pirate pride. On one end of the room is a mural boasting the words “Santa Ynez Pirates” with chalkboards that are used to keep score of every game each season. On the other side of the room, a wall is dedicated to the football team’s record holders. These murals are all updated annually in calligraphy done by hand thanks to the teamwork of Marj and Dennis Kocher.
The couple, married for 56 years, have been updating the football team’s locker room since 1998. Before the Kochers, the lockers were painted different colors and the locker room was drab.
Dennis was first inspired to make over the locker rooms after visiting another high school that had hung up pictures of their football team. After getting the go-ahead from the administration, the Kochers went about transforming the room. Every year, the couple has added more and more onto their 3D masterpiece.
“It’s gone way past what we could have imagined,” Marj exclaimed with a smile.
Marj and Dennis raised their three children in the Santa Ynez Valley after moving from Wisconsin in 1984. They are specifically grateful to the high school because of their children’s great experiences there. Their youngest, Andy, was a receiver on the varsity football team in 1996.
“The high school was good to our three kids so now we are being good to them,” explained Dennis. “It’s very rewarding to give back to the people who gave to you.”
In 2004, the couple moved to Auburn but they make the annual seven-hour road trip to the Santa Ynez Valley to update the football locker room.
Dennis sets up the ladders and chalks everything out, while Marj paints and does calligraphy. She describes Dennis as her coach: “He thinks I can, so I do,” she said.
Marj describes calligraphy as her first artistic passion. She belonged to a Wisconsin calligraphy group and made party invitations while living in the valley. After retiring from her career at Santa Barbara Bank and Trust, she now sells and paints wine goblets.
Dennis, a Vietnam veteran, worked for a police department in Wisconsin and then as a real estate agent in Santa Barbara, then as a government appraiser. Since retiring, he has begun to make furniture out of reclaimed wood.
At the high school, their favorite part of the job is updating the lockers. Every year, they paint over them and put up the new owner’s name and jersey number.
When Marj first started doing it, she saw a boy drag his mother to his locker to proudly show off his name and number on the black surface. She said that memory is her motivation and inspiration.
“If I can use my lettering to have him and others recognized, then it’s a good match,” she said with tears in her eyes.
The locker room, more of a piece of art than a place one associates with the smell of sweaty football players, has given the football team a place to call home for two decades. Despite its age, everything in the room is very well maintained. Marj attributes that to the fact that the football team “knows they are cared about and so they take care of their belongings.”