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Friends won't give up on missing Mouseketeer

The Southern Oregon mystery of a missing former Mouseketeer has received national attention, but for two women halfway across the world who sought to spread the word of their friend's disappearance, Dennis W. Day, 76, of Phoenix, is more than his childhood gig.

Friends who've known Day for more than 45 years say the former member of "The Mickey Mouse Club" was a "vibrant" personality devoted to acting at its most improvisational.

Sylvia McRae, who now lives off the Gold Coast in Australia, said her time performing with Day's theater troupe in Bay Area renaissance fairs starting in 1973 forged a familial relationship that spanned decades and gave her new acting outlooks -- particularly when it came to performing and staying in character.

“I am who I am because he crossed my path when I was 17,” McRae said.

Rosanne Reynolds of Oakland, California, who also acted under Day and was a high school friend of McRae’s, described him as a close friend who could be quiet and reserved, but loved to play “over-the-top” characters.

She was drawn to Day because he treated her as an equal, despite his experience off-Broadway in New York and his famous Disney gig.

As a young and inexperienced “newbie,” Reynolds said Day taught her acting and movement techniques with patience. In later years in the festival, Reynolds said Day would share with her stories of briefly dating Annette Funicello when they were Mouseketeers and performing theater with famed children’s author Shel Silverstein.

“He talked to me like an intimate,” Reynolds said. “He just didn’t have any pretense.”

Day, McRae and Reynolds all drifted from the renaissance festival scene in the 1980s, but they stayed in touch. Day’s now-husband Ernie Caswell was an ordained minister who officiated both McRae’s and Reynolds’ weddings.

Last August, Reynolds said she stopped hearing from Day or Caswell and grew concerned.

What happened to Day is currently a mystery. Meals on Wheels last checked on him in early July 2018, but he wasn’t at the home when volunteers visited July 25.

A day later, Oregon State Police found Day’s 1994 Ford Escort on the Oregon Coast being driven by people unfamiliar to Reynolds, but police found no evidence of foul play and the car was impounded.

A boarder who lived at Day’s home told police Day had left to visit friends about July 13-15.

Reynolds said Day loved animals, so it seems unlike him to leave his pets behind. She called the detail a “major red flag.”

“That was the first detail that didn’t add up,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds, who works odd hours as a train conductor living in Oakland, spread word of Day’s disappearance through traditional media and a Facebook group now known as “Help us find Dennis Day!” As of Friday, the group had grown to 436 members — of which about 80 had been added since Wednesday.

One woman remembered Day teaching her children to act at renaissance festivals, including the Renaissance Pleasure Faire and Dickens Christmas Faire.

“They don’t remember him, but I do,” she said. “He was a sweet man and gentle acting instructor.”

Another woman who worked with Day as a teen on productions of “Guys and Dolls,” “The Pajama Game” and “Babes in Arms” described Day as her “first and most significant of all the mentors I had.”

By November, Reynolds had been in touch with Phoenix police and spread the word to local media about Day’s disappearance. Reynolds’ press releases led to a December Mail Tribune story.

Day’s nephew in Roseburg learned of the disappearance through a television report and contacted Phoenix police, according to documentation provided by Day’s sister Nelda Adkins.

The family has since shared its story with Dateline NBC, which ran a web story Wednesday about the disappearance.

McRae, Reynolds and Day’s family are working to raise funds for a private investigator to look at the missing persons case. As of Friday, it has raised $1,263 of a $5,000 goal.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.

Once a Mouseketeer Dennis Day of Phoenix has been missing since July 2018. Photos submitted by Rosanne Reynolds.
Dennis Day, center left, performs with Sylvia McRae, center, in a renaissance pageant that actors called "The Boat Show." Photo submitted by Sylvia McRae.