Past Presidents: 1990-1999

1990 Earl F. Schmidt Jr.


Earl’s interest and involvement in Death Valley and the western desert dates back from 1941-42, when his Civil Pilot Training Program relocated from San Francisco Mills’ Field Airport to Death Valley Junction. He qualified for his pilot’s license there and moved to a secondary instruction program at Silver Lakes near Baker, California. (Before going on to a commission in the Army Air Force, with 30 combat missions over Europe in B-17’s, for which he holds the Distinguished Flying Cross).  As a fourth generation Californian, whose great grandparents and grandfather arrived in 1852, he has had a lifelong avocations interest in western history.  He has served in leadership roles (12 as president or chairman) with many local, state and regional preservation groups.

His research and published books and articles range from the La Perouse Expedition Bicentennial and Murphy’s-California’s Irish First Family, (to edition ten Trans-Sierra trail Guides.)  He was honored as a Fellow of the California Historical Society in 1989.

A graduate of Stanford University in 1947, with graduate Management training at Santa Clara, he served professionally with the Boy Scouts of America for twenty years, and for another eighteen as corporate executive in food packaging.

With his wife Patricia Cashel Schmidt, an active ‘49er on her own, he has been active in many Encampment roles.  These included two years as Production Chairman.  They raised two sons in the Bay area and proudly watch over three grandchildren.

As a confirmed Northern Californian they maintain two historic homes, one in Murphy and one in Palo Alto. They set mileage records every year for the longest “commute” to ‘49er meetings.

Excerpts from letter

Earl Schmidt passed away Thursday December 29, 2005

1994 Lee Crosby


Lee is a native of Bishop, California.  He was introduced to Death Valley at an early age.  He and his wife Lucy, from Wellesley, Massachusetts, have made their home in Bishop since Lee retired from serving a full Army career.

He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy and his military experience included construction in Alaska, command of an Engineering Battalion in Vietnam, Commander and Director of the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory in New Hampshire, and Deputy Division Engineer of the Corps of Engineers, North Pacific Division, in Portland, Oregon.

They are avid RVers and have covered more than 150,000 miles of this great land, as of this year.

Excerpts from letter.

1998 Lee Crosby


No, this is not an error. Our past president did such a good job for the organization in 1994 that he’s back again by popular demand.  As stated earlier, Lee is a native of Bishop, California.  He was introduced to Death Valley at an early age.  He and his wife Lucy, from Wellesley, Massachusetts, have made their home in Bishop since Lee retired from serving a full Army career.

He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy and his military experience included construction in Alaska, command of an Engineering Battalion in Vietnam, Commander and Director of the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory in New Hampshire, and Deputy Division Engineer of the Corps of Engineers, North Pacific Division, in Portland, Oregon.

They are still avid RVers, and have covered almost as many miles as there are roads on the map.

Excerpts from letter

1991 David Lee Heffner


Dave was born and raised in Ohio where he attended a country school near Lima.  He worked on local farms as a boy, was a Boy Scout, Explorer Scout and joined the Naval Reserve in 1951. After graduating from Shawnee High School he went to work for the Lennox Tool Company. He married Carol Gerig and in 1952 went on active duty in the U.S. Navy being assigned to the USS Tutiula, a repair ship, as an Electrician’s mate.

After being released from active duty he continued his work with the Boy Scouts and in 1960 was hired by the Lima Fire Department.

In 1963 he moved to Santa Ana, California and made his first trip to Death Valley. He continued his career with the Fountain Valley Fire Department and volunteered as a first aid instructor for the American Red Cross.  He also served as a volunteer for the Salvation Army.

He was the fire department union president and city employee union president. He attended Santa Ana College and made Fire Engineer in 1965.

In 1969 he received the Distinguished Service Award from the City of Fountain Valley and Certificate of Appreciation from the American Red Cross, Washington, D.C.

During 1972 they bought a weekend home in Bodfish at Lake Isabella he received his teaching certificate and taught adult education classes at Fountain Valley High school.

In 1975 he made Fire Captain but two years later was injured in a fire truck accident and retired from the Fire Department in 1980.

That year Dave joined the Death Valley ‘49ers and moved to Lake Isabella.  He became active in the Kern River Valley Historical Society, working on many projects, and was their Wagon-master for 5 years.  He served as President of the Kern River Wildlife Association and took on projects to build trails at Redwood Meadows in Sequoia National Park. 

In 1984 he became a ‘49er Director and continued volunteer work and exploring Death Valley in his 4×4.

His wife was killed in an automobile accident in 1987 and soon after Dave went to work for the Fred Harvey/Amfac Company at Furnace Creek Ranch as a seasonal Bus step on guide and leading 4×4 caravans.

In 1989 he married Diane McLean who joined him as a guide at Furnace Creek and went on 4×4 trips.  They were a great team. Diane is also active in the ‘49ers as a Director and doing the “Harvey Girl” interpretations.

Dave has developed many projects at the Encampments. He served on committees including Gold Panning, Prospector Race, Parade as well as spring restoration work for the park service.  You will find him leading the 4×4 caravans at the ‘49er Encampments where he is known as “OLE 2 Shovels”

Between Dave and Diane they have 5 children, 14 grandchildren and 7 great grandchildren.

Ask him any question about Death Valley and he will give you an answer. He is Mr. Death Valley.

Excerpts from letter

1995 Mike Nunn


Born in Denver, Colorado and at a young age transferred his residence to Nebraska where he was raised on a dirt farm near a small town named Blue Hill.  Mike attended one-room country schools and a high school in Blue Hill and completed high school in Hastings, a nearby larger city.

After completing high school he joined the Navy and was accepted into the flight program.  He completed this in 1958, was accepted in the Marine Corps and at that time was the youngest officer in the Marine Corps.

After a tour overseas, he was an instructor in the flight-training program at Pensacola, Florida… and was later sent to El Toro, California.  He was a Search and Rescue pilot until leaving the corps, but had found the “Promised” Land in California.

After leaving the Marine Corps he worked in several occupations while completing college.  He has a BA and MBA from Cal State Fullerton and a Law Degree from Loyola Law School, Los Angeles.

Upon completing law school he went to work for the District Attorney’s office of Orange County and was Deputy District Attorney until retiring in 1995.

While working in the Deputy District Attorney’s office he met Judge Art Guy and he prompted his interest in the Zamorano Club and E.Clampus Vitus as well as the Death Valley ‘49ers.  He was Treasurer of the ‘49ers for several years before becoming President in 1995.

He and his wife, Lou, moved to Las Vegas in 1996.  Lou had retired from nursing several years before so now both were free to enjoy retirement – and they do.

Both have hobbies and interests.  Lou continues to create handicraft items of a unique style.  Mike has taken up the Internet in full force and has been selling books and some area postcards.  You can easily recognize Mike by his distinguished white beard and his black hat.

Excerpts from letter

1999 Ray Sisson


Ray hails from Haryeyton, Kentucky, a small mining community in Perry County.  He was raised in Fork Mountain, Tennessee.  He went to high school in Oliver Springs, Tennessee and received his Engineering degree at the University of Tennessee.

In 1959 he came to California and received a real-estate certificate from UCLA where he studied Art and Painting.

He had a long career at Hughes Aircraft Company where he was responsible for Satellite Communications.  The most interesting project was sending two spacecraft’s to Venus in 1978.  One spacecraft orbited Venus until 1993. The other spacecraft carried four probes, which landed on Venus.  Orbiter and probes gather scientific information.  He retired from Hughes in 1985.

His service record was US Naval Aviation, Fighter Pilot and F6F Hellcats.

He is a member of many Inyo County organizations, lives in Lone Pine, California and is active in the Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce.

He and his wife Bette have visited Death Valley since the early 80’s, and its beauty grew on them.  They met *Mary and Paul DeDecker through the California Native Plant Society and they invited them to come to a’49er meeting. *Ardis Walker and *Dean Lemon sponsored them and Ray quickly got involved.

His wife Bette was born and raised in Pineville, Missouri and came to California in 1956.  They were married in 1977 and between the two of them have six children, eighteen grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

Hobbies include painting, woodwork, writing, hiking, 4-wheeling and trailering.

Ray said, “the most exciting and memorable event in my life was when Bette said I miss you too.”  They are a loving couple.

Ray Sisson passed away Wednesday, January 12, 2014.

1992 Perry Deters


Perry has been a ‘49er since 1978.

His prime interests are geology and preservation of the desert and mountain areas. 

He was born in Waterloo, Iowa and attended the University of Iowa. He served five years during WW II as a U.S. Army Captain. He retired from a career in production and administrations.

His wife, Joanne served on many committees including the Ainsworth Library Committee. They reside in Monrovia, CA.

Excerpts from letter

1996 Dee Dee Ruhlow


Dee Dee was born in Vermont and received her education there.  She came to Southern California in January 1957 to visit her parents who had taken a year’s “sabbatical” from the farm. After sightseeing for a week, she decided this was the place to be and went on her one and only interview, landing a job with State Farm Insurance, where she still is employed today.

Her parents went back to Vermont but Dee Dee stayed.  She works as a claim specialist with State Farm Insurance involved in personal injury negotiations.

She met her husband, Bill, in California, he lived in the same apartment building as her dear friend *Joan Newbro (before she was a Newbro). She was married in December 1962 and has always lived in Burbank.

Included in her family are a daughter and son, three grandchildren and three great grandchildren.  She and her husband share their home with 2 beloved felines.

Her hobbies are collecting and reading books on Death Valley and its surrounding area, collecting art of Death Valley artist, and working with service clubs.

The Newbros introduced the Ruhlows to Death Valley and the ‘49ers and it was love at first sight – in 1965.  They became life members and served on many committees.  Dee Dee was elected Director, Secretary and then with great pride represented the Death Valley ‘49ers as President in 1996.

*Wife of 1973 ‘49er President Bill Newbro

Excerpts from letter

1993 Galen Hicks


Galen was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. He came to California as a teenager and was impressed by the mountains and desert.

He and his wife, Judie, attended many Encampments and had such a good time they decided it was time to pay something back to the organization. They bought a Life Membership and both got involved, Galen with Production and Judie with the Art show.  The rest is history.

He recently retired from the Telephone Company and they now make their home in Snowflake, Arizona.

Excerpts from letter 

1997 Richard Tullis, MD


Born in Rome, New York, Rick received his BA from the University of Rochester and his MD from Syracuse, New York.

He served in the U.S. Navy in both WWII and the Korean War as a Navy Surgeon, and was Chief Surgeon on the ship “Hope” in 1971 in the Caribbean.

He migrated to San Diego via the Navy in 1949 and stayed in California after his discharge in 1952.

He first visited Death Valley in 1963, and later at an E. Clampus Vitus Clampout, met Capt. Gibson and Howard Chuman who promptly sold him a ‘49er membership.  That was the start of his involvement in the Death Valley ‘49ers.

His adorable wife, Joyce, was born in New York and also graduated from Syracuse in Fine Arts.

They both love the desert, mountains, seacoast and sailing and belong to many museums and volunteer outfits. Rick must remain active at all times and dabbles in music, art, astronomy, ships, railroad, coins and computers.  He is qualified as a brakeman, fireman and engineer for full sized steam locomotives for the local museum.  They go for long workouts at the YMCA daily when home.

The medical profession followed down to their children.  Son Richard is a Ph.D. in DNA research, second son Norman an MD, and his son is also an MD. Their daughter, Jody, married an Aussie and lives in Melbourne.

Rick and Joyce are a delightful couple to know.

Excerpts from letter

Rick Tullis passed away Monday December 18, 2006