darrell darling
May 7, 1940 – February 3, 2022
Resident of Santa Cruz
Reverend Darrell Darling was a Methodist minister, poet, innkeeper, nut farmer and political activist. He died in Santa Cruz on February 3 with his wife, Karen, and daughter, Denise, by his side. Until the very end, Darling was blessed with a sparkling wit, an inquisitive intellect, and endless optimism. Although he worked alongside icons like the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Caesar Chavez and Hillary Clinton, he remained at heart the little kid with a twinkle in his eye who met his love on the monkey bars.
Darrell Wayne Darling was born on May 7, 1940, in Toledo, Illinois, to C. Eugene Darling, a Methodist minister, and Norma (Easton) Darling. Two of his brothers, Stephen and Paul, also followed their father into the ministry; a fourth, Lowell, became an artist.
Darling and his brothers enjoyed carefree childhoods playing baseball, swimming, and sharing the adventures of small-town Illinois life, which, as later described from the pulpit, seemed pulled straight from the pages of Mark Twains.
In 1952, shortly after Darling’s family moved across the prairie state to settle in Rock Island, he had a date with fate at Longview Park. Darling spotted a 12-year-old girl, Karen Zimmerman, playing on the monkey bars, and he quickly introduced himself.
After a six-year courtship, the couple married on August 12, 1958. They had three children: Denise (born 1959), Matthew (1962-1986) and Adam (1966-1996).
Darling was an outstanding student who won several scholarships to fund college and graduate school. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from Western Illinois University in 1962 and graduated from Yale Divinity School in 1966 debt-free.
On a bulletin board at Yale in 1965, Darling saw a notice to “come to Alabama and work” posted by King. The Darlings answered the call, with 2 children in tow, and joined King in the Deep South to defend civil rights.
In 1965, the Darlings welcomed 16-year-old Robert Wilson Jr. from Mississippi to their New Haven home. Over the years, he remained a beloved “son” of the Darlings.
Darling ministered to Methodist congregations in Hills Grove and Walnut Grove, Illinois, New Haven, Connecticut, and Pleasanton, Davis, and Santa Cruz, California.
As pastor of the Davis United Methodist Church from 1970 to 1978, Darling was known for his spirited Sunday morning sermons, delivered without notes, which he had only sketched out the night before.
During his eight years in Davis, he joined Chavez in the fields and fought to improve the lives of farm workers. He was one of the founders of a community meals program, a program that helped incarcerated people get into college, and DQU, the Native American University. He was also elected president of the Davis school board.
While pastoring the United Methodist Church of Santa Cruz, beginning in 1978, he established himself as a key political leader in the community. He was chairman of the county Democratic Party and acted as a campaign strategist at the local, state and national levels.
Darling was above all a devoted father. In their various business ventures, he and Karen aimed to teach their children the value of hard work. The family grew, harvested and sold English walnuts on their 20-acre farm in Lake County, where they settled in a converted chicken coop. The Darlings’ sons worked behind the Common Ground coffee bar in Santa Cruz, which they owned and operated in the 1980s.
The most ambitious business venture ever undertaken by the Darlings was – also a family affair. On a bluff with sweeping views of Monterey Bay, 314 West Cliff Dr. was a gorgeous eight-bedroom estate in Santa Cruz designed in 1913 by early California architect WH Weeks. After buying it in 1984, the family ran The Darling House as a bed and breakfast for over three decades. The whole family participated: answering the telephone, cleaning the rooms and receiving the guests.
The Darling House has become a hive of political activity. As one writer put it, “Hillary Clinton signed the guestbook. Just like Barbara Boxer, Nancy Pelosi and George McGovern. (Amy Graff, SFGate, 2016.)
Darling’s sons prepared his way to death. Writing poetry was a channel for her grief. He wrote a volume for each son: “Matthew – Gift of God” (1998) and “Adam – Humankind” (2002), handwritten and printed by Robert Dickover.
Darling was almost never without a smile, shining light wherever he went, even in the darkest of times. He is survived by Karen, Denise and her granddaughter Kylie.
A celebration of life will be held on Saturday, May 7, 2022, at 3:00 p.m., at the West Cliff Dr. Lighthouse in Santa Cruz. Bring a blanket to sit on as places will be limited. A reception will follow in the Fellowship Hall of The United Methodist Church, 250 California St. The Darlings suggest donations to the NAACP Youth Scholarship or the Nonviolence Resource Center.

View the online memorial for Darrell Darling

Published by Santa Cruz Sentinel on April 10, 2022.