The following words will never be sufficient to truly honor Darrell Taft and the courageous and incredible life he lived until he took his final breath. He was a man who lived his life with enthusiasm, passion, and eagerness. He was a faithful and true husband, devoted father, loving brother and son, and a compassionate and caring friend to all who knew him. His life exemplified the following words, “Be STRONG when weak, Be BRAVE when scared, Be HUMBLE when victorious, BE BADASS EVERYDAY!!” Darrell’s successful examples of being a true spirit of the living are all around us, and these will offer comfort and grace in his absence.
1976 was a year of memorable and historic times. What would soon be a common household name, Apple Computers, was formed by Steve Jobs. Families gathered around their television sets with high anticipation to watch popular shows like “Happy Days,” “Laverne and Shirley,” and “M*A*S*H,” while the movie “Rocky” was the year’s blockbuster hit. Ironically, another tough and determined soul entered the world in the same year. Richard Douglas Taft and Vickie Charlene Atwood-Taft welcomed their precious baby boy on June 12, 1976. They proudly named him Darrell Robert. He began his journey in Panorama City, California.
Darrell and his younger brother, Brian, spent their early years in Mission Hills, then moved to Oceanside, California in 1987. The two shared many memorable moments together during their childhood – most of them centered around sports, Atari and Nintendo games, and spending time with cousins and friends. From the start, Darrell was a bright, curious boy who was willing to try just about anything as long as it kept him busy – as he was always on the go! He was a good student and had many friends in school. He was exceptionally athletic, and this gift provided a much-needed outlet of stored energy the classrooms created. Baseball was his first love and favorite sport. He looked forward to going to games at Dodger Stadium and listening to Vin Scully on the radio. As a young boy, he and his brother would play outside for hours and Darrell somehow always convinced Brian to pitch so he could practice his hitting. The neighbor would fill grocery bags full of balls hit into his yard! Baseball was only one of his passions though; he also excelled in swimming, basketball, and karate. It was a chore to keep Darrell engaged because there never seemed to be enough action for him!
Socialization and sports took priority in Darrell’s life, but this did not keep him from taking accelerated classes and maintaining good grades. Darrell wasn’t a fan of writing and would often procrastinate as long as he possibly could before completing an assignment. He also lived by the saying, “Why read the book when you can watch the movie”? Baseball continued to be Darrell’s sport of choice. He played Little League, Junior League, and Senior League, primarily as a catcher. He played on Vista High School’s baseball team all four years and was fortunate to be part of CIF history when they celebrated a memorable win during the CIF finals. Vista blanked Monte Vista with a 5-0 victory with Darrell catching the entire game. After high school graduation in 1994, Darrell’s priorities shifted to education, and he remarkably chose to double major – a feat that only took him an extra quarter to accomplish. He continued to play baseball, earning a scholarship at UC Riverside. He graduated in the fall of 1998 Magna Cum Laude, with bachelor degrees in Business Administration and Psychology. He signed his first offer letter shortly after graduation and started his career right after Christmas that same year. Following this notable amount of hard work, he went on to complete his MBA in Human Resources at San Diego State in 2002 while working full time.
His real happiness was found in the love of his life. Shannon Stroika was a presence in Darrell’s life from their first day of high school. They had lockers next to one another and often found that they were placed next to each other in class because of teachers’ fondness for alphabetical order. Shannon quickly took note of his beautiful blue eyes, his adorable dimples and his incredibly handsome smile. These physical qualities were matched by his charisma and outgoing personality. The young couple started dating in their senior year and they attended senior prom together – surprisingly home by midnight because Darrell had a CIF playoff game scheduled for the following morning! College briefly took them in different directions, but they were committed and endured a long distance relationship that first year. Life brought them together again when Shannon moved to Riverside to go to nursing school. On May 29, 1999, Darrell surprised Shannon with a sunset picnic and roses upon the cliffs of Torrey Pines where he asked her to be his wife. It was a truly magical moment filled with love and much joy.
They married on July 29, 2000, at Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside, California. The day was memorable for it began gloomy and wet but turned out beautiful and sunny. A favorite story to this day is the dumpster diving Darrell and the groomsmen had to do to retrieve a very special handkerchief of Shannon’s that was accidently thrown away. The newlyweds delayed their honeymoon so they could spend time with friends and family who came from out of town. They honeymooned in January 2001 on a Caribbean Cruise. After the wedding Darrell and Shannon lived near the 4th green of the La Costa golf course. Camping and traveling with family were some favorite pastimes. Darrell continued to play baseball in adult leagues and loved his time on and off the field with his friends.
Darrell and Shannon moved back to Oceanside in 2001 when they purchased their first home. The first addition to their family came in 2002 when Shannon surprised Darrell one day after work with a German Shepherd, rescued from the Humane Society. They named him Wrigley, after the baseball stadium (not the gum!), and he provided abundant love and companionship. Sadly, Wrigley passed away in 2014, but he was there early-on when Shannon and Darrell found out they were expecting their first baby. Shannon shared this exciting news with Darrell with a bouquet of flowers, a New Dad book, and a positive pregnancy test. They were both elated with their amazing fortune in life and eagerly anticipated the arrival of their precious baby. While in labor Shannon was lucky enough to get to watch the Marlins play the Yankees in the World Series. Hannah Elizabeth made her appearance early in the evening of October 7, 2003 and the game was soon forgotten. The first week of Hannah’s life was difficult on her new parents due to jaundice and dehydration, but Darrell was an incredible dad from the start. He was so proud to be the father of a little girl. As luck would have it, he was given the gift of a second daughter when Meghan Nichole was joyfully welcomed into the family on September 20, 2006. Their two lovely daughters, whom their Daddy named, made their family complete – well almost… they did adopt two more dogs, Roxy and Fenway, who provide lots of cuddles and entertainment for the whole family.
Darrell made sure that his family was his first priority in life, but he was also a firm believer in supporting them with his professional career. Not surprisingly, he was a great success in the work environment. His early career started at Nicholas Applegate as an HR Analyst and ended at Ten-X as Vice President, Human Resources and People Operations. He taught himself multiple computer programs and was an expert at Excel. He would regularly awe Shannon with the amount of data he would manipulate and the pivot tables and charts he would compile. Darrell demonstrated an exceptional work ethic and a commitment to uncompromising quality. Even during his cancer treatments, his laptop was never far away. Continuing to work while fighting his disease made him feel productive and helpful, while providing a bit of an escape. Day-to-day life found him at work during the week but the evenings and weekends were for family. Whether it was watching the girls play sports, participating in school events, or just swimming in their pool were moments he didn’t want to miss.
It would probably be easier to write about what Darrell did not do as opposed to what he did do because the list is never-ending. He lived about four lifetimes in the one life he was given. It helped that he basically functioned as the family travel agent because he always planned out all their adventures. The Taft/Stroika family enjoyed multiple cruises to places such as Alaska, Mexican Rivera, Eastern and Western Caribbean, and Hawaii. Two of those were magical Disney cruises. Disneyland was also a favorite family destination where many good memories, like riding roller coasters, were created. In addition, there were annual guy trips that included dove hunting in Yuma, Arizona, trout fishing in the Eastern Sierras, and weekend trips to USC football games. They visited the city and countryside in New York, spending time with family and driving to Cooperstown to the Baseball Hall of Fame for the Induction Ceremony of Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. The family spent time in Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana; enjoying white water rafting, tubing down the Snake River, and driving through Yellowstone. New Hampshire and Wisconsin held special memories of visiting family and historic baseball stadiums. Camping in Yosemite and the Sequoias were amongst Darrell’s most special memories. He was so happy to share his love of the outdoors with his girls. Boating, fishing, and late night campfires were the best! He made sure to take his girls skiing and snowboarding in Big Bear, on all the roller coasters at Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm, snorkeling and on a helicopter tour in Hawaii, and jet skiing on multiple rivers and lakes. Zip lining became a favorite family tradition while on vacation. Hannah and Meghan’s love for adventure comes from Darrell and will live on through them forever.
Darrell’s last and very memorable trip was to the Big Island. In his final act as the family travel agent he figured out all flight arrangements, found a beautiful home overlooking the ocean in Hilo, and discovered a waterfall for Shannon and the girls to go zip lining over. He saw the lava from Mauna Loa and beautiful scenery and waterfalls. He remarked that he felt very close to God and had a certain sense of peace while there. In response to a Facebook post Darrell wrote, “So thankful that God paved the way for us all to spend this week together – not just to create lasting memories for my family, but so that I can leave a positive footprint on the lives of all the little ones that I love so very much!!!! I have definitely been given an opportunity to lead a very (very) blessed life – from the time I was born up through today!!!” As Darrell mentioned, many forces came together to get the family there – none of which will ever be forgotten. Ultimately, Darrell just wanted quality moments spent with his wife, his daughters, his family, and good friends. The memories that came from all of these experiences by far outweighed any tangible items life offered to him.
When he was not hard at work or seeking out every bit of every moment to spend with those he loved most, Darrell enjoyed listening to Dave Matthews Band while eating his favorite ice cream – chocolate chip cookie dough. He was also fond of an occasional Circus animal cookie or a slice of carrot cake, minus the nuts. His favorite baseball player was Ken Griffey Jr. and he was a lifelong fan of the Dodgers and the USC Trojan football team. In his travels, he loved both the mountains and the beach, but he could do without the sand. In times of absolute leisure (and obviously there were not many of those moments), he could be found catching up on some of his favorite television shows: CSI, Big Bang Theory, NCIS and Blue Bloods or watching his favorite movies: Top Gun and Sandlot. He was known for a keen sense of organization and tidiness – everything had its place, and this always gave him something to do.
Even in the most trying times, Darrell’s inner light was shining brightly through his smile, his positive attitude, and unwavering faith in God. His faith in God deepened during this last year and he was baptized in his pool at home on December 4, 2016, a joyous occasion witnessed by close family and friends. Leaving behind his precious daughters and wife were definitely the most difficult part of Darrell’s journey, as he was not ready to say goodbye. His time on this Earth was too short, for he had many more accomplishments planned and moments to cherish. Though cancer took the life from him, Darrell won the battle fighting like a true champion to the end with the same enthusiasm he lived his entire life. Stuart Scott, an ESPN anchor, once said, “You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and the manner in which you live. So live, Live! Fight like hell, and when you get too tired to fight, lay down and rest and let somebody else fight for you.” Darrell’s life was one of courage, strength, and inspiration. We are so thankful for all the memories, and we will hold them close to our hearts. Darrell is a legend who will never be forgotten, and he will be dearly missed by all of us for the BADASS he truly was every single day of his life. #FightOn #DTStrong #TaftStrong
Taft, Darrell R.
March 2, 2017. Beloved husband of Shannon (nee Stroika). Loving father of Hannah and Meghan. Cherished son of Richard and Vickie (nee Atwood) Taft. Caring brother of Brian (Rebecca) Taft. Son-in-law of Russell and Margaret Stroika. Brother-in-law of Jannee (Reid) Shipley. Fun uncle of Wyatt and Harper Taft and Callum and Mahlan Shipley. Further survived by paternal grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and many good and dear friends.
Family and friends will celebrate Darrell on Friday March 31, 2017 at 2:00 PM at North Coast Church, 2405 North Santa Fe Ave, Vista CA. Reception immediately following celebration.