Past Presidents: 1960-1969

1960 Ralph Palmer Merritt


Born in 1883, to cite the many major undertakings of his busy career would be to summarize the back-stage story of many important phases of the history of his beloved California.

As a youth sharing the buckboard seat with Henry Miller on long journeys over the Miller and Lux Empire, he also shared the confidence and wisdom of the cattle king.

As a student at the University of California, Berkeley he gained the eye and trust of its President Benjamin Ide Wheeler, becoming his secretary upon graduation.

Later he achieved the title of Vice President of the University and served as its comptroller. It was during these years that he built a lasting friendship with such men as Herbert Hoover and Horace Albright.

During World War I, when Herbert Hoover assumed his historic role as Food Administrator for the United States, Ralph Merritt accepted an appointment from him as administrator for California and other western states.  For his outstanding service he was awarded an Honorary LL.D. degree by his Alma Mater. Later he and Mr. Hoover became associated in ranching affairs in the San Joaquin Valley.  Subsequently, as his friend Horace Albright has said, “Ralph became “czar” of the rice industry and was very successful in solving the problems of that industry”.

In fact, his success was so outstanding he was selected to lead the grape growers out of their morass of problems which arose as a result of the Volstead Act.  Here it took the repeal of the prohibition amendment to bring full prosperity back to the vineyards.

Meanwhile, in failing health, he sought sunshine and quiet east of the Sierra Nevada’s in Inyo County. He became interested in various enterprises including mining in Death Valley. When his friend Horace Albright decided that the magnificent region of Death Valley should be set aside as a National Monument, his biggest problem was to convince President Herbert Hoover that he should sign the necessary proclamation.  Hoover was hesitant, being an old mining engineer, so Albright called upon his old friend, Merritt, to contact the President if he agreed that the creation of the monument was a good thing.

Merritt contacted President Hoover and on February 11, 1933, the Presidential Proclamation was signed, setting aside the National Monument while reserving to Death Valley prospectors their right of access.

In more recent years, after the Death Valley ‘49ers had elected him to serve on their Board of Directors, he again found a public service, which challenged his unique talents.  The ‘49ers had set as a major objective the creation of a museum in Death Valley. To assist in society instruction and aid in appreciation of the history, geology and physical beauty of the region. Drawing upon his background of experience and associations, Merritt laid before the Directors a complicated promotional plan on national, state and local levels designed to achieve the desired end.  He then joined with John Anson Ford as co-chairman of the committee of Directors to carefully maneuver the program through to a successful conclusion.  Appropriately enough, President Ralph P. Merritt of the Death Valley ‘49ers, served as chairman of the event on the day the new museum was dedicated.

After the tragedy of Pearl Harbor he accepted the burdensome and exacting duties of Project Director of the War Relocation authority at Manzanar, California.

Ansel Adams, famous photographer and conservationist, dedicated his beautiful book on the Manzanar project “Born free and equal” to Merritt. The words he used could well be ours today.  They read “dedicated with admiration and respect to Ralph Palmer Merritt who has given thousands of our fellow citizens a renewed faith and confidence in Democracy.

He also dedicated his energies and talents as a member of the Board of Kern Plateau Association to the cause of preserving for future generations the wild magic of the Kern Plateau.

Ralph Merritt passed away in 1963

Excerpts from keepsake #7 by Ardis Walker.

1964 Arthur W. Walker


Arthur was born on June 9, 1891, in St. Paul, Minnesota.  He received his degree in Business Administration at the University of Minnesota.

Following college he was employed in Seattle, WA. in the exporting and importing business and in international banking.

In 1915 he married Lucy Spaulding.

He served in the U.S. Navy in World War I and spent the year of 1919 in China.

In about 1928 he came to Los Angeles and co-established the Mills-Walker Textile Importing Co. Later he became the executive manager of the Wrightwood Properties in Wrightwood, CA.  for the Security First National Bank. At this time his early interest in water resources, flood control, forest lands and vital watershed preservation began. In 1940 he moved to San Bernardino and became affiliated with the San Bernardino Chamber of Commerce. He played a vital role in the City and County’s development. He was Chairman of the County Highway Safety council, and coordinator between various flood Control Zones.

He played a vital part in securing military bases for the County. The Feather River Project, which now brings life-giving water to Southern California, would not have received State Legislature approval and funding without his untiring efforts.

Other responsibilities included being the secretary of the San Bernardino County Chamber of Commerce for many years, civilian defense coordinator during World War II, manager of airports, and treasurer for 14 years and President in 1964 of the Death Valley ‘49ers.

He was very active in many civic organizations and gave of himself to many community endeavors, filling a leadership role and setting an example of tireless service,

Mr. Walker, at the age of 79, passed away on February 4th, 1971 in San Bernardino.  His wife, Lucy, two daughters and four grandchildren survived him.

1968 Edward P. Jones


Ed was a graduate of Cal-Tech in Pasadena and was an engineer for the California Division of Highways, (pre Cal-Trans).

He lived in Newport Beach on Balboa Island, Ca. with his wife Bonnie. His children lived nearby.

At the Encampment, during his year as president, the historic marker at Old Stovepipe wells was dedicated.

Another special event in 1968 was a 14-mile hike to 11,049-ft Telescope Peak. Views were magnificent along the entire route, viewing Mt. Whitney and Bad Water from the high point.

1961 George Sturtevent


Born in Newark, New Jersey in 1915, George worked in a newspaper and factory before going off to WWII. He served first in North Africa and then in Europe.

He came to California in 1946 for a customary 6-month look-about, went home once and came right back to get married.  He and his wife Pat moved to the Trono desert and raised their family. Scouting hidden places in the desert was his passion and he covered many miles touring the area with his family on weekends.  

During his long active years with the Death Valley ‘49ers he was in public relations with American Potash and Chemical Corporation in Trona and with a successor company in Trona and Los Angeles.

Since the hallmark of public relations is to stay in the background and keep the other guy up-front and on the mike, George said he didn’t leave a large paper trail.  But all of his memories are bright with great days and nights of fellowship with a group of people unique in Southern California.

His second retirement had him a bookstore owner until health problems slowed him down.  He is an avid reader, and is writing of his life and adventures.  He enjoys his children and grandchildren and resides in Lakewood, California.

Excerpts from letter

George passed away March 29th, 2003

According to Bill Newbro, (1973 past president), George was on the founding committee in 1949 and was also responsible for starting the 4 day encampment in 1951.

1965 Hugh Tolford


This is a man whose entire working career has been characterized by diversity.  In 1965, the 51 year old Tolford was a Land Investment and Sales Consultant.  Among other things in the span of his career he sold baby food, advertising, mulch and land, co-founded an audit service, managed an airport and was president of an aviation company.

In the moments not devoted to the business of earning a living, Tolford had eight years of service on the California State Fire Prevention Commission, and was past president of the Big Ten Club, and the Michigan State Club.

The one constant note throughout his adult life, aside from his wife, Jean, and daughters, Nancy and Katie, has been a sustained interest in aviation.

His interest and training found purpose in the Navy Air Arm where he became a blimp pilot with command pilot rating. 

His association with the Navy continued through eighteen years of reserve duty until he retired as a Lt. Commander in 1964.

Unrelated to aviation are past occupations as co-founder and partner of the Burgoyne Index at Cincinnati, a grocery and drug audit service, the California Transit Advertising at Los Angeles, Newhall Land & Farming Co. and Interbay Marketing Group. He has been a volunteer and officer in many organizations including: Los Angeles Corral of the Westerners, California Historical Society, Zamorano Club and Friends of the Huntington Library. He has authored the following Death Valley Keepsakes: #13–The Ties That Bind, #16–Zabriskie Point, #25–This Place Called Death Valley and #35–Take The Train To Death Valley.

His retired occupation has seen him active as director of the California International Antiquarian Book Fair as well as his many volunteer organizations.

Besides being President of the Death Valley ‘49ers he was Production Chairman of the Encampment for over 24 years and is now one of our Honorary Directors.

Excerpts from ‘49er newsletter and letter

1969 J. Emil Morhardt


Most of the folks in and around the community of Bishop called him ‘Aim”.  This well-known man of many professions and avocations (author, composer, singer, lecturer, mine operator, prospector and artist) drew much of his inspiration from the beautiful desert country he loved so much.

A Pasadena-born poet (yes, he also published in that field) said he was reared “Here and there across the country.” He had degrees in music from Pomona College and Claremont.

During his early life, Aim spent 10 years in the employ of Zane Grey as a photographer-companion.

He retired as a teacher of art and music at Bishop Union High School.

His paintings are among the original works shown in the earliest Art Shows and through the years the music performed around the campfires by “Aim” and associates enriched the ‘49er experience.

The Death Valley ‘49ers and the National Park Service have been greatly enriched by the presence and contributions of Genevieve “Gen” and “Aim” Morhardt.

Emil passed away April 16th, 1987

Excerpts from ‘49er newsletter

1962 Charlie A. Scholl


Charlie and his parents came to California from Milwaukee in 1918 when Charlie was 16 years old.  He returned to Wisconsin in 1919 to attend the Agricultural College at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and traveled back to California in 1921.

He went to work at a dairy in the San Fernando Valley and stayed there a couple of years before joining his brother in law’s construction firm which was building houses in Beverly Hills.

Charlie’s brother was employed at Furnace Creek Inn at Death Valley, and when the opening for clerk-bellman came up, he talked Charlie into taking the job.

While he may not have realized it at the time, Charlie would spend only six months on that first job at the Inn but would remain in Death Valley for 20 of the next 28 years. His quiet but persevering nature would label him as a man who “got things done right the first time,” and would single him out as an employee capable of handling additional responsibilities.

Following his short assignment at the Inn, he was transferred to Death Valley Junction as store manager, a position he held until 1937.

He liked the quiet, ruggedness of desert living and the feeling of unconfined freedom in the wide-open country.

He also liked the warm friendliness and sincerity of people there. Men such as Harry Gower, “Wash” Cahill, “Nix” Knight, “Fergie” Ferguson, Steve Esteves, Joe Horton and a number of others….all Borax men and all drawn closer together because of their unusual environment.

In 1931 when he was serving as a clerk of the Death Valley School Board he was assigned to hire a new teacher for the school.  After two unsuccessful days of interviewing prospective schoolmarms in Los Angeles, he decided to go to Yosemite for a brief vacation.  At a dance there one evening he met an attractive young lady from Merced, California named Alwilda Ragsdale who had been teaching school in Monterey. He mentioned unsuccessful attempts to find someone to go to Death Valley Junction as a schoolteacher, and before the evening was out, Miss Ragsdale was thinking of getting a release from her assignment so she could take the Death Valley position. She decided to take the job and started in September. She and Charlie were married in December.

For five years Alwilda taught school in Death Valley, missing only a brief period in 1935 when a daughter Lasley was born.

On June 1, 1937 Charlie and his family were transferred to Los Angeles and he was named assistant purchasing agent for the company.

Then in 1945 the Scholls returned to Death Valley when Charlie was asked to head up the company’s hotel operations.  At that time the company owned Furnace Creek Inn, Furnace Creek Ranch and the Amargosa Hotel at Death Valley Junction.  All of these had been closed during World War II, and Charlie’s first assignment was to get them staffed and reopened for business.

He continued as superintendent of the Death Valley operations until the Fred Harvey Company leased the hotel facilities in 1956.  Then he returned to Los Angeles as manager of surplus equipment sales, a position he held until his retirement. From 1947 to 1956 he was President of the Board of Directors of the Southern Inyo County Hospital District and was one a handful of people responsible for construction of a modern, 20-bed hospital in Lone Pine, California.

In 1948 he became a member of the Board of Directors of the Lahontan Regional Water Pollution Control District, headquartered at Bishop, California. He was chairman of the group and was reappointed to a four-year term by Governor Goodwin Knight and by Governor Pat Brown.

One of his most rewarding activities was his participation in the Death Valley ‘49ers.  He helped organize the group in 1949 and was on the Board of Directors that signed the original Articles of Incorporation.

In addition to these activities, Charlie’s favorite pastimes were gardening and playing with his two grandchildren.

Excerpts from U.S. Borax “Pioneer” Magazine

1966 Hazel K. Henderson


Hazel was born March 8, 1903 in Humansville, Missouri, a small town near Springfield.  In 1921 the family moved to Indiana where she graduated from high school, took tests and applied for a teaching position in North Dakota.  She had a one-room school with 12 pupils, mostly whom only spoke German. She returned to Indiana the next year and attended Indiana State Normal school, which is now Indiana State University in Terre Haute. She taught in a one-room school with all 8 grades and after three years of teaching was married.

She and her husband started a dry cleaning plant. She attended the National Institute of Dry Cleaning in Silver Springs, Maryland.  Her husband died in 1945 and she attended courses at ISU to get her degree. She did some travel for classes and that was the beginning of her love of travel.  She made 4 trips to various countries and 2 trips around the world.  In 1953 she married Rudie Henderson, who had been a high school sweetheart.  Rudie had interest in the Dow Hotel in Lone Pine and Stove Pipe Wells Hotel in Death Valley.  He was a Director in the Death Valley ‘49ers. After only 19 months Rudie died of a heart attack. After his passing she was asked to finish his term as Director. She returned to Los Angeles and studied to become a broker agent.  She gave talks about “You and Your Money” especially to women’s groups. She also gave lectures on Death Valley as she was an avid photographer and loved to show her slides.

She enjoyed the association she had with the ‘49ers and was President in 1966.

In 1975 she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and her doctor advised her to be close to her family. She and her sister moved to Columbus, Ohio and Hazel had several good years there but gradually her health began to fail and Hazel passed away on December 9th, 1987.

Excerpts from letter by her sister Marie Reed

1963 Ralph A. Fear


Today the travelers come to the desert in an air-conditioned car but in 1917 the transportation was a wagon drawn by a four-horse team.  That’s how Ralph Fear came to Owens Valley.

In 1949 Ralph was appointed by the Inyo Board of Supervisors to serve on the committee to stage the California Centennial Pageant in Death Valley. He served continuously as a member of the ‘49er Board of Directors including President in 1963.

Fear was no novice in service club work. Among other things, he is past president and director of the Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce, director and past president of the Lone Pine Lion’s Club, and past president of the Inyo Associates. He was instrumental in setting up the local fire district and getting a new firehouse in Lone Pine.

Ralph passed away July 13th, 1977

Excerpts from‘49er newsletter

1967 Leo Moore


Leo was born in Oakes, North Dakota, May 21, 1904. He graduated from High School in Davenport, Iowa after having lived several  years on his  father’s cattle  ranch, The Lazy A-8,

in Montana. He enlisted shortly after Pearl Harbor and was made Sergeant. He reported to London early in 1942.  He was furnished an office for public relations work across the street from Churchill’s office.  General Eisenhower had selected him as his personal photographer on the basis of some work he had done earlier.  Leo was “Ike’s” shadow for the duration occupying the same quarters wherever they moved. They traveled together until the ticker-tape parade in New York City, which finished the war as far as their military service together, was concerned. Leo visited him at the White House and played golf with him when he was in his Palm Springs home.

They remained friends until Eisenhower’s death.  When Leo left the reserves some years later he was Major Moore.

Primarily his career was with MGM Studios for approximately 37 years. He was head studio projectionist making many friends throughout the glamour era of film-making from the thirties through the sixties.

He was Vice President of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO from 1964 to 1972.  He was a member of Local 165 and was chosen to set up the Motion Picture Health and Welfare system.

His introduction to the Death Valley ‘49er organization stemmed from his first attendance in 1949, the year of its inception. He joined the organization and held many offices and chairmanships.

His interest was in the areas of Photography and Painting. He was an exhibitor in the LA Camera Club and many other clubs.  He became an Associate in both the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain and the Photographic Society of America. His devotion to painting developed through friendships and studies with several well-known artists. He exhibited in this field and eventually began the AFL-CIO annual Art Show for the Motion Picture Industry.

 Leo remarried 7 years after his wife Irene died in 1968 to Violet Hollcraft, a long-time close friend of the Moore’s. Through most of Leo’s life he was an avid golfer but also loved to fish and travel.

Leo passed away at his home in Arroyo Grande July 22nd, 1981 after playing a round of golf with his friends.

Excerpts from letter by Violet Moore