Past Presidents: 1980-1989

1980 R. Jack Stoddard


The ever vigilant Secretary of the ‘49ers from 1972-1978 was a renegade.  Although his grandparents were 1850-53 Californians (his grandfather was the first white child born in San Bernardino) Jack wound up with Soda Springs, Idaho as his birthplace. However, Jack amended his ways and replanted his California roots at a very early age.

Burbank was home to Jack and his wife Nita, a southern belle from Mississippi, who has long lost her southern accent while gaining four daughters and five grandchildren.

While Jack became active in the ‘49ers in 1969, he had been a Death Valley-Mojave desert wanderer for many years. (The next time you wend your way to ‘Vegas give a thought to this at the Stoddard Wells turnoff sign)

Historically, he was also an ex-Chairman of the California Historical, Archaeological and Paleontological Task Force of 1974-76, an Associate member of the Westerners and an ex-Noble Grand Humbug of Platrix Chapter of E. Clampus Vitus.

Professionally he was in the construction business since 1946, as Stoddard Enterprises, in Bell Garden, California. Also in that connection, he was a State and National Director of the Associated Contractors of America and previously its National Environmental Committee Chairman.

He was a “Jack of many trades,” including engineering, accounting and law, and served with the Third Army in Europe in World War II.

Jack passed away July 27th, 1999

Excerpts from ‘49er newsletter

1984 Merle E. Wilson


The Death Valley ‘49ers, offered a familiar and beloved field of activities for Merle Wilson, their leader for 1984.  Originally, he studied at UCLA to be a mining engineer, meanwhile traveling the desert continually with his sponsor and mentor Dr. John Hawthorne.

He never became a mining engineer.  World War II catapulted him into a civil engineer, where he became officer in charge of all heavy construction equipment in the western states for the Army Corp of Engineers. He was sent to London to help plan the engineering phase of the invasion.  Once on the continent, he worked at the job of re-building railroad bridges (including three across the Rhine) and scrounging steel to do the jobs.

Back home his job with the County of Los Angeles Engineering Department was waiting for him.  He was loaned to the Chief Administration Officer as staff member in charge of Capital Projects, a construction program involving over $1,000,000 a day. While in that position he wrote the first county feasibility report for the construction of Marina Del Rey, destined to be the largest small boat harbor in the world.  Upon completion of the preliminary planning, he transferred to the New Harbor Department as Chief of Development and Operations.  When the Marina was finished he retired.

Merle had a love of sports, among which were sailing, skiing and mountaineering.  He joined the California Yacht Club and the Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla associated with it, serving as Commander Instructor, Vessel Inspector and on the National Staff.

Together with his wife, Tay, a musician, and their daughter Jean, he started traveling the desert again and eventually became involved with the Death Valley ‘49ers. 

He resided in the Kern River Valley area and was a member of the Committee for the Kern County Supervisors of that area.

Excerpts from ‘49er newsletter

Tragically, Merle was fatally injured in a traffic accident on February 9th, 1984 after service in the executive position for just three months; His wife Tay was seriously injured but has recovered and is still a member of the ‘49ers.

1987 Mary DeDecker


Mary was a native of the Panhandle of Oklahoma but a resident of California since the early 1920’s.  She spent her childhood in the San Fernando Valley.  She was only the third woman to serve as President of the organization.

Mary took the gavel in hand with a long-time interest in the diversified matters of a historical and contemporary Death Valley.  Taking residency at Independence, California in 1935 with her husband Paul (1971 ‘49er President), Mary continued her study of Botany, an interest germinated in her Van Nuys High School science class.  Although lacking a lettered credential of degree, she acquired a vast knowledge of things botanical and was considered the authority on the native plants of Eastern California, from both the academic and layman’s viewpoint.  Field investigations in this genre have led Mary and Paul to hike, backpack and jeep in the Eastern Sierra and the Inyo Desert areas.

On the committee, which established the California Rare Plant program, she updated that study periodically and was active in other related research. She was one of three woman botanists selected for coverage in the Bancroft Library’s Audio-History Program. She was noted for her discovery of a new plant genus, DeDeckera Eurekennsis, the first new genus discovered in California since 1948. The last ten years brought Mary the following accolades: The American Motors Conservation Award, Fellow of California Native Plant Society, the 75th Anniversary Award for outstanding service, Inyo National Forest and Bureau of Land Management’s Special Achievement Award.

In the literary realm, Mary was the author of Mines of the Eastern Sierra, The Eichbaum Toll Road, Flora of the Northern Mojave and also penned major sections of Genny Schumacher’s Deepest Valley and was a major contributor toCalifornia’s Natural History on the White-Inyo Range.

The DeDeckers joined the ‘49ers in 1957 and both were long-time Directors. They had two fine daughters as well as seven grandchildren.

Mary passed away September 5th, 2000 at age 91

Excerpts from ‘49er newsletter

1981 Russ Johnson


Russ is a tall, lean Paniola (cowpoke to non-Hawaiians), although a native of Minnesota (a second homeland to Scandinavians). 

Working his way through Western State College at Gunnison, Colorado with his photography, he met and fast-talked Anne into saddling up as his wife.

California’s warmer claims and aerospace beckoned him and he wound up in San Diego as a tool designer and liaison on the Atlas Missile.

 But love for the High Country lured him first to pack trains supplying miners in the Panamints, then pack trains for dudes taking them into the High Sierras.  He found time to become a master of all trades.  With boundless energy and talents, he was a professional photographer, pressman par excellent for Chalfant Press in Bishop, California, writer (including books on Bristlecones and Bodie), designer of books and brochures, skier, scuba diver, mule breaker and builder (including their home near historic Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii.)

He was also a board member of the Eastern Sierra Interpretive Association and both were untiring workers for the ‘49ers long before they officially joined.

Russ and Anne square danced and conducted the Friday and Saturday sessions at Furnace Creek as well as being active in the Art Show.

Russ and Anne now live in Hawaii. Aloha!

Excerpts from ‘49er newsletter

Russ Johnson passed away July, 2004, he was 88

1984* Leslie B. DeMille


Les was 1st vice president at the untimely death of Merle Wilson and successfully retrieved the baton and took the necessary stride in this one-participant relay.

With a go-easy, jovial personality, he is a native of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada and a third cousin of the late motion picture producer Cecil B. DeMille. 

He won his first prize in open competition at the age of eight years. He attended the Art Student’s League in New York and later studied with the late artist and teacher Leon Franks in California.

Les is many things to many people and organizations.  He is an organizer, director, and instructor for portrait and still life affiliations throughout the United States, including Hawaii.  He is a juror for many major art shows across North America.  He has, over the years, secured a number of important commissions and taught individuals and classes utilizing oils and pastels in executing his craft.

Those that have been his clients include: Richard Nixon, Buddy Ebsen, Yvonne D’Carlo, Andy Devine, Max Baer and Ronald Reagan, to name a few.  DeMille’s spectrum in art ranges over a wide field, but again it is the world of portraits he especially enjoys and even more so when the subjects are mother and child, which follows closely to keen family ties.

He has been involved with the ‘49ers since 1968, when he was first invited to the indoor Art Show.

Recently DeMille sold the gallery he founded in Laguna Beach and has moved to Sedona, Arizona.

His lovely wife Isabel passed away in 2001.

His home and art gallery in Sedona, as well as his travels, keep him a busy man.

Excerpts from ‘49er newsletter

1988 Raymond J. Peter


A native of the Bronx in New York City, and a resident of California since 1948, Ray was an executive with The Prudential Insurance Company of America.

A relatively recent arrival to the ‘49er camp, Ray became an Advisor in 1979, but his executive impetus has provided him the energy to serve in a number of important committees and to advance to the position of Treasurer.  He held that office form 1982 through 1985.

Ray came to the West Coast when Prudential expanded its operations from a single managerial center in Newark, NJ and opened facilities in Los Angeles.

 Taking residence in Sherman Oaks, Ray has been a member of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce continuously since 1953, a docent in Los Angeles’ El Pueblo State Historical Park, the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California, and the Sierra Club. He was with the Boy Scouts of America from 1959 to 1975 where he served at the District and Council levels as Training Chairman.  He is the recipient of the Boy Scout “Silver Beaver” award, obtained while Scoutmaster.  It was in the late 1950’s, while on a Boy Scout field trip, that Ray first visited Death Valley and repeated visits thereafter have intensified his interest in this unique place.

Shortly before World War II he married Ellen Clark. They had two sons and a daughter and have four grandchildren.  Ellen has accompanied her husband on numerous Death Valley ‘49er activities and generously given her time and energy to the organization.

The entire Death Valley ‘49er organization looked ahead to good times with Ray as President and wished him, a 45 year insurance “agent”, a term of premium accomplishments.

Excerpts from ‘49er newsletter

 Ray Peter passed away Wednesday, January 12.

1982 Richard D. Crowe


A native of LaGrande, Oregon, Dick entered the telephone/communications field through his father who owned Home Independent Telephone Company.  The family moved to Dos Palos, California in 1930 where senior Crowe acquired the Dos Palos Telephone Company.  Dick became General Manager of the firm in 1939 and held the position until 1967, although Continental Telephone acquired the company in 1963.  He retired in 1967 but returned to full service in 1970 and became Vice President of Business Relations in 1973.

After a 42-year career in the telephone and communication work he set down his tools of the trade for an enjoyable fling at retirement in Bakersfield, California. However, with the transition comes the role of ‘49er President in 1982.

Dick holds a number of membership positions in various service and social organizations. Spare time finds him in historical research and field work in the Death Valley region.

On the domestic front we learn that Dick’s wife Saralee, is sister to Navy Admiral Elmo Zumwalt.  They have two sons, Richard Jr. and Fred.

They now reside in Fresno, Ca.

Excerpts from ‘49er newsletter

Richard D. Crowe passed away April 23rd, 2003

1985 Arthur D. Guy, Jr.


Art Guy was well qualified for the position of ‘49er President, but most assuredly so in one particular way – his established par excellence at wielding a gavel.  All the ‘49er Presidents are equipped with a gavel to render law and order at meetings, but Art was also a Municipal Court Judge in North Orange County in Southern California.  His gavel rapped many court sessions to somber attention, and he held this position on the bench since 1981. He was re-elected to a full five-year term again in 1984.

Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he obtained his education in Los Angeles public schools, plus a BA and Juris Doctor from University of California.  He met his wife, Jackie, while both were students at the University and they were married in 1942.  They had one son and one daughter. Following his studies from USC, he practiced law from 1947 until 1981, 14 years in Los Angeles and 20 years in Orange County.

During World War II he served as Command Pilot to a crew of eleven aboard a blimp which sailed forth out of the Santa Ana Naval Air Station. It was during this military service that he met Past President Hugh Tolford, who one day would bring Art’s interest on Death Valley into focus.  The Guys were first introduced to the Valley in 1950 but it wasn’t until 1970 that Tolford persuaded him to attend an Encampment. The November extravaganza alerted him to the “Love of the People, the organization, and “spiritual experience” found with-in the Valley”.

The Guy’s family distaff side shows Jackie to be a member of Penwomen of America and is a published author of eight years standing.

He had the admiration and support of the organization as he managed the Pilot’s seat through all of 1985.

Judge Guy passed away January 6, 1990

Excerpts from ‘49er newsletter

1989 Harry Tucker


Stepping forward to serve as the 1989 President is one who is no stranger to the Valley.  He has lived here on and off for a number of years. Up front is Ohio-born Harry Tucker who occasionally answers to the ring of “Farmer Tuck” or “Hardrock Harry”.

The current President’s portfolio reveals an education, which included a year at Ohio State and four years of military service, the latter including a year at Syracuse University, where he studied aviation. While not equipped with a Ph.D. or other titles of merit, our Man of the Year harbors a great deal of grass-root elementary knowledge, i.e. down-to-earth, man-to-man quality seemingly fading from these contemporary times.

Harry’s parents were musicians, and with harmonious sounds in his life from time zero, Harry found music a part of his life.  After his military tenure he became an apprentice neon-sign glass blower and tube bender, a trade which later led to his ownership of a Santa Ana Neon-Sign Manufacturing firm.

Except for his military duties in the South Pacific, Harry’s formative years were spent east of the Mississippi River, but in 1955 he “came west”.

He worked both in glass blowing and music, predominantly in the realm of jazz.

A life member of the Musicians Associations, Local 7(Santa Ana) Harry’s expertise-which included big band and small jazz groups, has seen him excel with the guitar, piano and vibraphones, the later now his specialty. He has provided some exciting New Year’s Eve entertainment at Stovepipe Wells.

He co-founded the Death Valley Hikers Association in 1974 and led the annual hike for six years.  He also was the assistant manager at Stovepipe Wells from 1973-75.

The father of three children, two girls and a boy, Harry’s home was in the pristine wilderness of Eastern Mojave Desert, where he had 40 acres in Round Valley.   He just recently moved to Snowflake, Arizona. He shares this homesite with his wife, Trudie, who hails from Ottawa, Canada. He is most worthy to serve as the 41st President.

Excerpts from ‘49er newsletter

1983 Joe Lehman


At the ‘49ers podium during 1983 was a mild-mannered gentleman who has labeled himself a “sort of professional retiree”. By name the man is Joe Lehman of Rolling Hills Estate, Ca., whose portfolio shows that he is a retired US Army officer, retired City Council member and Mayor of his city, as will as a retired bank executive, any of which is nothing to sneeze about.

Joe has, however, indicated that retirement means many things to him, but least of all-inactivity.  In addition to his complex schedule, Joe and his wife Mary raised registered Quarter Horses for show, a spirited vein of equestrianship to be sure.  Mary is a credited artist in her own right and has exhibited in the ‘49er Encampment Art Show for many years. The Lehman’s have one son, Jim, a Navy Fighter Pilot.

Joe and Mary have visited Death Valley several times each year for 25 years, where they acquired a love for this lovely, historical, scenic valley. They have explored many of the interesting features found only in Death Valley by hiking, driving, horseback riding as well as flying over the length and breadth of its unique terrain.  Joe considers this desert land very much underrated as a scenic and historical part of California.

Among the new President’s objectives for his year in office were to improve communications with the Superintendents and staff of Death Valley. He desired to explore ways in which the ‘49ers could best assist in establishing or improving various facets of this remarkable asset of the National Park Service. 

We wished President Joe Lehman a great year of achievement.

Excerpts from ‘49er newsletter

Joe Lehman passed away July 13th, 2003

1986 George R. Jansen


Flight “1986” for the Death Valley ‘49ers was piloted by veteran Flight Commander George R. Jansen, who had over 8,500 hours of official pilot time to his credit.  A veteran of World War II, at which time he flew B-17 and B-24 Bombers, Jansen went into a career as a test pilot for McDonnell Douglas, working out the “bugs” in a long line of planes as they were being developed, including the DC9 and DC10 series.  He also conducted evaluation flights with F9F jets, the B747 bomber and the Concord.

The new President was a neighbor to Death Valley when he started testing aircraft at Edwards Air Force Base, then called Muroc, in 1947.  He lived in the Mojave-Lancaster area until 1960 and frequently took journeys into Death Valley.  In the early 1950’s he had the pleasure of meeting “Scotty” at the Castle.

Jansen became acquainted with the ‘49ers in 1966 when he was a guest of Past President Palmer Long, at the Kernville, California board meeting.  He was elected to the Advisory Committee and became a Director two years later.  He served on the Burro Flapjack event, the ‘49er Scholarship program and Production as well as other committees within the organization.

Jansen was a native of the Northern California community of Willows. He and his lovely wife Margaret, made their home in Newport Beach, California.  They had one son, Richard.

After retiring from flight testing, George continued working in the aviation field as a consultant. On April 3, 1986, in Las Vegas, Nevada, he received the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics “Chanute Flight Award for 1986”. The award was presented to him for his numerous contributions to the science and military aviation spanning 37 years as a test pilot and Flight Test Manager.

The entire ‘49er organization wished George “All Systems Go” as he piloted them through the skies of 1986.

George passed away March 11th, 1991

Excerpts from ‘49er newsletter