Past Presidents 1970-1979

1970 Thomas W. Mathew


Tom was seen at the Encampments selling memberships, stoking the campfires and judging the various events.  Indeed he was rather hard to miss, fondly described by a friend as “only slightly shorter than Godzilla”. And not surprisingly, as at one time he was a boxer and wrestler. He was also a draftsman, movie extra, boilermaker, business agent and president of the Boilermakers Union. He has been a member and director of the ‘49ers since 1952.

He was an expert in industrial relations (Orange Coast College, Loyola, UCLA and the school of hard knocks.) He was also executive secretary of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Orange County.  He was affiliated with more organizations than you can shake a stick at. Included were the State Building and Trades Council Executive Board, The Elks, Masons (Knight Templar Commandery and Al Malaikah Shrine), Nook’n Cranny Club and Platrix Chapter of E. Clampus Vitus.

Tom’s Death Valley experiences go back to August of 1929, “though what he was doing there in August staggers the imagination!”

Tom knew Death Valley, its people, its places, and as a ‘49er he’s dedicated to the preservation of its heritage. Hail to the Chief.

Excerpts from ‘49er newsletter

1974 R. Chalmers Graham


Born on April 21, 1912 in Fremont, Nebraska he grew up in Hastings, Nebraska and graduated from the University of Nebraska with a BA in Business Administration. He was a member of Alpha Tau Omega fraternity and the Innocents Honorary Society.

He relocated to Pasadena, California in the early nineteen thirties and attended the graduate School of Management at the University of Southern California.

He established and operated his own financial business in Pasadena for many years.

Chalmers was active in Rotary Club, Boys Club, alumni activities, and the AATO fraternity. He was active with the ‘49ers Photographic Group for several years before he became a member. After joining he served on many boards including the important job as treasurer. He was a life member.

His interest in photography continued after taking an early retirement and he became a salon judge.

 He joined the Photographic Society of America and exhibited in many salons in the United States, Canada and Europe. He attained a fellowship in the Photographic Society of America and held a five star rating, exhibiting pictorial black and white prints. For a five star rating you had to have exhibited 128 different prints for a total of 640 times in different salon showings. He took Bromoil lessons, a lost art, from fellow photographer John Baumgarter.  He also had an interest in faceting gemstones, which he used in the fabrication of jewelry which he designed. He and his wife Eunice were the envy of all when they wore his beautiful jewelry.

Mr. Graham passed away on December 23rd, 1983

Prepared by Eunice Graham Donahue

1978 Ross C. Dorsett


Ross was born and raised in Indiana.  He attended the University of Indiana, put in one year in Radio Engineering at Cal Tech and four years with the Marines.

This Dorsett did not play halfback for the Cowboys, he was more at home on the sea or in his motor home.

He was a member of the Dana Point Yacht Club, the Huntington Harbor Angling Club and the Masonic Lodge, Scottish Rite and El Bekal Shrine in Long Beach, California.

He retired from Automobile Association of America, the last 20 years as Director of Emergency Road Service.

His wife, Mary Jane, was an Eagle Rock lassie, USC graduate, and an expert bridge player who patiently tried to keep Ross from trumping her aces.

They had two daughters, Nancy and Sue, and four grandchildren.

Welcome aboard Ross.

Excerpts from ‘49er newsletter

Ross passed away in 1990

1971 Paul DeDecker


Paul DeDecker of Independence, California shouldered the work and worries of the Death Valley ‘49ers Presidency.  Paul was a career employee of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and a ‘49er Director since 1957.  He also was a member of E. Clampus Vitus, conservation groups and an active member of the Inyo Associates and Independence Civic Club of which he was past president.

Though born in Chicago, he was a resident of Inyo County for 35 years and has explored most of it by foot and jeep.  An avid High Sierra man, he knapsacked all over it, including the John Muir trails.

Paul’s botanist-writer, Mary, shared his wanderings as well as their two daughters and seven grandchildren.

He was a long-time member of the Sierra Club and Local Union 18 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Among his favorite activities were hiking, fishing, gardening and serving on the ‘49ers Board of Directors.

Excerpts from ‘49er newsletter

Paul passed away November 17, 2003

Notice in the DEATH VALLEY NEWS the official ‘49er newsletter

Paul DeDecker, the husband of the late Mary DeDecker, died Tuesday, November 17 at age 96. Paul was a past president of the Death Valley ‘49ers and an ardent supporter of keeping the desert natural and open to visitors. Mary died September 5, 2000 (age 91).

Paul and Mary explored remote areas of the desert and Mary would botanize. Dedeckera Canyon is named for the type location of a new genus discovered by Mary and Paul. The new genus was named for the discoverer (Mary DeDecker) and the canyon was named for the plant. There is a “rule” that geographic names can not be given to locations in the name of a living person. Naming the canyon after the plant was a neat way of honoring the DeDeckers who were both living when their name was bestowed on the canyon.

By LeRoy Johnson

1975 George Koenig


This year’s President describes himself as a transplanted Midwesterner who came to California after wandering about in the South Pacific as World War II cryptographer and air-sea rescue officer.

His first historical love was the gold rush country, which led him to write two guidebooks on the Mother Lode.  He drifted into Death Valley researching the ‘49er trails-“hoofing it and huffing it” throughout Death Valley, the Panamints, Inyo-Argus areas and Nevada.

A result of this quest is something he was justly proud of: The acquisition of the only journal brought out of Death Valley by the famed “Long Camp” party of ‘49ers, which included Manly and Rogers.  It was published by Bancroft Library as Valley of Salt, Memories of Wine: A Journal of Death Valley 1849 and became the basis for the ‘49er publication The Lost Death Valley ‘49er Journal of Louis Nusbaumer.

He conducted the Authors Breakfast at the Encampment for several years and was one of the key speakers. He wrote Keepsake No.11 and collaborated on Keepsake No. 13. He was the editor of the Death Valley ‘49er Newsletter from 1970 through 1973. He was a member of the Los Angeles Corral of the Westerners and edited their Brand Book No. 12, a member of Platrix Chapter No.2, E. Clampus Vitus, and The Queen of the Cow Countries and of the Calvaras County Historical Society.  He was a western history buff and collected barbed wire.

In order to pay dues to all these organizations, and provide shelter and grub for his wife, Birdie, daughter Claudia and son Steve, he worked as an advertising man with national agencies for 25 years, then opened his own agency.

He and his wife resided in the San Fernando Valley.

George passed away May 8th, 1992

1979 Elmore Nelson


Elmore really isn’t of that historic lineage, but the 1979 ‘49er President is an ex-Navy man and at home on the sea.  He literally lived on a 60 foot craft moored at Marina Del Mar.  As the attainment of a lifelong dream it was fittingly named “Miracle”

Elmore is also a car buff.  Any kind-Ferrari’s Hot Rod’s, RV’s, you name it.  If it weren’t for his Kosmo Gear Company he would probably be in the automotive action. This also might have been inspired by coming to California in 1925, from his native Ohio, in a Marmon automobile via the mud, dirt, and rutted roads and from the famed wooden “corduroy road” out of El Centro.

Perhaps as the result of his father’s gypsy blood, Elmore lived in San Francisco, La Canada, Glendale, Santa Monica, Pacific Palisades and a vague area off Mullholland Drive, not to mention two years in Northern Ireland for Lockheed Corp.

He inherited his Death Valley interest as sort of a dowry in 1949 when he married Joy, the daughter of a longtime ‘49er Director Tom and Evelyn Baskin.  They have two daughters, Robin and Heather, both of whom have flown the crow’s nets, nautically speaking.

As a member since 1963, we welcomed the “Admiral” and his lady aboard to chart the ‘49er course for 1979.

Excerpts from ‘49er newsletter

1972 Dean Lemon


This year’s President was born in Montana and graduated from the University of Idaho as a chemical engineer.

He came to California in 1938 to work for the Pacific Coast Borax Company, a company synonymous with Death Valley history.

He is at home on the ski slopes and is active in outdoor sports and camping.  He and his wife, Louise, have two children, a son and a daughter, and two grandchildren. Chances are the trial and tribulations of being a ‘49er President added a few age lines but he still looks strong and healthy.

Always active in club and civic work, such as school board, Chamber of Commerce, Masons, PTA, Boy Scouts, Little League and E. Clampus Vitus. He was also the manager of environmental affairs for the U.S. Borax Company.

After a life in Boron, California he lived in Pasadena, Mammoth Lakes and Reno, Nevada.

The Lemons joined the ‘49ers in 1965.  Appreciatively, we might call their tireless, talented efforts “Lemon-Aid”.

They know the Death Valley area and its history and are a prime example of the spirit of the ‘49ers.

Excerpts from ‘49er Newsletter

1976 Robert Logsdon


Bob has long been noted for his service to the organization, his community and his country. He’s just the kind of man who has made the ‘49ers successful for more than a quarter of a century, and the kind who has made our nation successful for eight times that long.

Bob was born Sept 1, 1917 in San Bernardino County and the family moved to Paducah, KY when he was 2 years old.  He went to school there and was president of his class at Tilghman High School in 1935.  He returned to San Bernardino soon after and continued his education at San Bernardino Valley College.

He has devoted his career to photography. After 10 years working in a camera supply house he bought his own store in Lancaster, California.  Two years later he moved back to San Bernardino and purchased Hancock Camera, the store where he had worked for 10 years, and changed its name to Empire Camera.

Bob served in World War II and in Korea in the Navy, and in the Navy reserve. His rate is Chief Operations Specialist.

He attended the first Death Valley Encampment in 1949, entered one of the first photography contests, won it, and then repeated several more years. “They finally got rid of me by asking me to run the contest.” That was how he started getting involved in the ‘49er Encampment, by running various photographic events.

He has also served his community and his profession well.  He was past director of the San Bernardino Downtown Association, and has held various offices in the Rotary, Elks, San Bernardino Central City Advisory Board and was District Representative for Riverside and San Bernardino Counties.

He has been a member of the Photographic Society of America for over 30 years.  He was made an Associate in 1967 and a fellow in 1974.   He was president of his local camera club and has taught photography for 10 years in the San Bernardino Adult School.  He has been an international judge, lecturer and international exhibitor for the Photographic Society of America.

The lovely lady behind this busy man is his wife Ruth. They have four children and eight grandchildren.

Excerpts from ‘49er newsletter

1973 William H. Newbro


“Big Bill” has been a ‘49er member since 1951.  However he did attend several of the California Centennial Organizational meetings in 1949 to plan the original Death Valley Pageant.

As secretary of the ‘49ers, he became so indispensable that it took until 1972 to break free into the first vice presidency.  In January of 1973, he took over the reins as President.

There isn’t enough space to give you a complete rundown of Bill’s busy career. He was bon in Detroit, Michigan but came to California a year later.  He started at the Automobile Club of Southern California in 1941 and was a naval aviator in WW II.

After the war he returned to the Auto Club and earned his degree from University of Southern California by attending night classes. He retired from the Auto Club as Executive Assistant to the President.

His well deserved recognition for enthusiastic dedication and efforts in Western Historical groups would fill a trophy room. He was Ex. Sheriff of LA Corral of the Westerners, Past Humbug of E. Clampus Vitus Platrix Chapter, El Pueblo Executive Board, etc. etc.

He is married to Advisory member Joan and had two children and one grandchild.

In 1999 he was recognized as being the longest continually active member of the Death Valley ‘49ers. The organization draws on his vast knowledge of past history.

We’re mighty fond of “Big Bill”.

Excerpts from ‘49er newsletter

Bill Newbro passed away November 15th, 2004

1977 Palmer Long


This is the year for Presidents from Georgia.

Born a rebel, in Atlanta, Palmer was raised a Yankee, near Minneapolis.  Following service as a Naval Aviator in WWII, he graduated from the University of Minnesota as an Aeronautical Engineer.

Heading where the action was, in California’s aerospace industry, he joined Douglas Aircraft, and married his wife June, who was a fellow co-worker there. He soon found himself testing aircraft at Edwards Air Force Base.

He then fell in love again—with the High Sierra and Mojave Desert. This led him to the Death Valley ‘49ers, which he joined in 1965. He served as Burro Race Chairman and Park Service Liaison.

Historically, he was also a member of E. Clampus Vitus Platrix Chapter and the Los Angeles Corral of the Westerners.

He also traveled for Douglas Aircraft to many far away places.

Sadly, his wife June passed away in 1982, leaving Palmer, their three daughters Barbara, Joanne and Kathy as well as their son Jim.

He continued to enjoy the activities of the Death Valley ‘49ers, and worked on a number of committees.

Later he married Shirley Commons, a real estate broker from the Orange County California area.

It’s was nice to see another Georgian make good, “and we ain’t just whistlin’ Dixie”.

Palmer Long passed away November 10th, 1994.

Excerpts from ‘49er newsletter