Yvonne Dibblee Donohoe, 88, died peacefully on Sunday, 15 February 2009 at her family’s Rancho San Julian near Lompoc, after gradually failing due to a variety of chronic ailments over the last few years.
She was born 20 April 1920 in San Francisco to Wilson and Anita Dibblee (Anita Oreña). Through her parents, who were second cousins, she was doubly descended from Don Jose de la Guerra y Noriega, a Spanish-born nobleman who was comandante of the Presidio of Santa Barbara from 1815 to 1842.
In 1954 she set off alone with her four young children to meet her husband, Joseph A. Donohoe IV, in Kabul, Afghanistan, a world away in space and time. Due to her husband’s embassy position Yvonne met some interesting people in that remote city, including Vice President (at the time) Richard Nixon, the author James Michener and the famed combat photojournalist (and later Picasso friend) David Douglas Duncan, whom they took on a trout-fishing camping trip.
A two-year stint in Washington, D.C. followed, and then postings in Jedda, Saudi Arabia for two years and in Ankara, Turkey for about eight years. While in Jedda Yvonne greatly enjoyed the hunting and fishing camping trips her husband organized, and took up an interest in snorkeling along the spectacular coral reefs of the Red Sea and collecting sea shells. On one of these trips she was attacked and nearly drowned by a moray eel, resulting in an injury to her right hand which ended her piano playing. Up to that point she was quite an accomplished pianist, favoring pieces by classical composers such as Grieg and Rachmaninoff.
In Ankara, undaunted by a revolution during which rumbling tanks and rifle fire could be seen and heard from her home while low-flying jets rattled the windows, Yvonne discovered a fascination with archaeology which became a lifelong passion. This was in 1962, and in a perfect place, associated with the very roots of civilization. Her enthusiasm led her to volunteer at the Hittite Museum, and she became the first American allowed to work there. She went on several organized digs with the Museum, including Hisarlik (ancient Troy) and Çatal Hüyük, dating back to around 7,000 B.C., at the time thought to be the world’s oldest urban settlement. It was just then being excavated by renowned archaeologist James Mellaart. On these trips Yvonne carried two Swedish knives (one smaller and one larger) on her belt as well as a 25-caliber pistol given to her by her husband, as there had been a couple of killings at archaeological sites by roving bands.
Following their adventures in the Middle East, Yvonne and her husband lived in Atherton, where Yvonne continued her interest in archaeology, taking courses at Cañada College and participating in several excavations at California Indian (Costanoan) sites over quite a number of years. The two of them also often visited his family’s ranch on the Parrott side, the 18,000-acre Llano Seco along the Sacramento River south of Chico, for shooting and fishing.
Following her husband’s death Yvonne returned to the Santa Barbara area, living in Solvang for about ten years before increasing infirmity brought her to move earlier this year to her daughter’s cottage on Rancho San Julian.
In the time of Don Jose de la Guerra, who acquired it in 1837, this ranch contained a bit over 48,000 acres (it was one of the five ranches he held at the time of his death in 1858, totaling slightly over 285,000 acres). Five parcels remain in the family, totaling nearly 14,000 acres. Rather remarkably for mercurial California, descendants of Don Jose de la Guerra or their spouses have held an ownership interest in these nearly 14,000 acres continuously since 1837.
The 4,000-acre headquarters parcel has been held in common in a trust since 1958. Yvonne became one of the three trustees of that trust in 2004 on the death of her brother, famed geologist Thomas W. Dibblee Jr. Yvonne always did her best to keep up on the developments and activities on the ranch, and took great pleasure in attending the annual family reunion barbeques. She was the last of her generation of the Rancho San Julian family.
In recent years, following a visit to view some exhibits, Yvonne took an interest in the Santa Barbara Historical Society, becoming something of a benefactor. She redirected a half-million-dollar charitable remainder trust as an endowment to support their acquisitions program and donated to them one of her particular treasures, a handsome Victorian sofa that was originally in the Casa de la Guerra.
Yvonne was widowed when Joseph A. Donohoe IV, her husband of 58 years, died in 1998 and is survived by her four children, Joseph A. Donohoe V of San Francisco and Gilroy, Richard Dibblee Donohoe of Napa, Anita Dibblee Donohoe of Rancho San Julian and Wilson Dibblee Donohoe of Whitmore, six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, all now in California.
There will be a Rosary at 6:00 pm Friday, 27 February at Welch-Ryce-Haider Funeral Chapel, 15 East Sola at State St., Santa Barbara, and a Memorial Mass will be celebrated at Mission Santa Ynez, 1760 Mission Drive (Highway 246) in Solvang at 10:00 am Saturday, 28 February.