Lotee dies after highly productive life -- at work and at play

Good humor and can-do spirit exemplifies the attitude of early China Lakers

Lotee dies after highly productive life -- at work and at playHerbert T. “Ted” Lotee, who died in Ridgecrest on March 3, 2013, was widely appreciated as one of the most magnificent of the mavericks of old China Lake.

After a highly productive and engrossing 34-year career at China Lake, he retired from that work, but turned to volunteer tasks where he could share his can-do spirit with the community. He died at the age of 96, leaving numerous friends to appreciate a long life very well lived.

A celebration of his life is planned for 10 a.m. on Friday, April 12, on the lanai behind the China Lake Museum of Armament and Technology, formerly the Officers’ Club.

“I so admired my dad for his dry humor and his love of this desert he called home,” said his daughter, Deanna Ripley-Lotee.

“He took such pride in the work he did for China Lake that in his more cognitive moments during the latter years of his life he tried to recruit anyone in the house to work for the Naval Ordnance Test Station.

“I think it’s fitting that his memorial service will be at a place he frequented with people he loved on the Station he enjoyed.”

Born on Sept. 26, 1916, in Rochester, N.Y., to Herbert Amos and Jessie May Thorp Lotee, Ted attended Central High School in Paterson, N.J., and graduated from New Jersey Institute of Technology, where he earned a B.S. in mechanical engineering.

He and Eleanor met on a blind date, with Ted at first disappointed to be paired with the “kid sister” of a friend. However, when he realized that the beautiful young lady coming down the stairs was his partner for the evening, his view changed in a hurry. He and Eleanor were married on Feb. 1, 1941, and a lifetime of love was to follow.

Ted joined the Naval Reserve in 1943, serving on active duty during World War II at the Naval Gun Factory, Washington, D.C. When he was released from active duty in 1946, he remained in the Naval Reserve until 1968, serving for two of those years as leader of the local reserve unit and retiring as a captain.

The Lotees were in Redwood City, with Eleanor working as a supervisor for Bell Telephone when Ted got a job at the Naval Ordnance Test Station in 1947. He jumped on the bus, leaving Eleanor to wrap up her job and pack the household goods.

The evening Ted arrived here, tired and dusty from a day’s travel, he was assigned to an upper bunk in a darkened barracks. Answering the call of nature later that night, he realized that in that era of scarce housing, he had been assigned to a WAVES barracks.

The next day, he reported for work in what is now the China Lake Training Building. As he sat on his drafting stool, he noticed that the lights overhead were waving back and forth. His fellow workers casually informed him that an earthquake was going on.

The barracks was conveniently next door to what was then the Station Restaurant. Eating there was an adventure, Ted later remembered, “because the sailors who were doling out the food would just as soon put the jello on top of your mashed potatoes and the gravy on your salad.”

As Ted waited for a family housing assignment, he gradually moved the household from Redwood City a carload at a time. Finally, the weekend he took the bed, Eleanor decided it was time to join him here.

China Lake was very social in those years, and the Lotees joined their friends at the Officers’ Club — which was invariably packed — several evenings a week. One night Ted and his friends dressed as Keystone Kops and raided the place.

Other fond memories from that era involved six other couples. The seven pairs had gotten together to devise Halloween costumes for a party at the O Club. They decided to become Hiking Vikings. The close-knit group met for many years thereafter, and although the costumes never happened, much laughter and camaraderie did, along with their motto, “We eat and drink and sometimes think.”

All that partying with his friends didn’t keep Ted from a lot of hard work on the job. He began his career in the Ordnance Section of the Explosives Department. Over the years he worked on launchers, explosive trains, fuzes, detonators, igniters — anything necessary to get the job done.

One special project he worked on was Project Airedale, a little-known NOTS contribution to the nation’s understanding of radioactive fallout. In April 1951 Ted led a team of China Lakers to Eniwetok for six weeks, witnessing three A-bomb explosions at close range and contributing irreplaceable technical expertise.

After a decade of ordnance contributions, Ted left his position as head of the Ordnance Components Division to become the first head of the Engineering Department’s In-Service Support Division, established to support the fleet.

“If there was an accident or a problem, we’d have somebody on the scene within 24 hours if we could, and that’s what the fleet needs,” Ted later told an interviewer.

One special event during Ted’s tenure was President John F. Kennedy’s visit here in June 1963. So excellent was Ted’s reputation that he was asked to stand beside the display of rockets (still on view today at the Navy museum) to explain their workings if the presidential limo stopped. It didn’t, but Ted was ready — and he had a great view of the president.

After Ted retired from civil service in 1974, he was able to indulge his interest in archaeology, taking every class Cerro Coso Community College had to offer. He also participated in several archaeological digs, including one in Belize.

He was also a docent at the Maturango Museum and enjoyed being an escort to Little Petroglyph Canyon.

Among his other community activities were a term on the Ridgecrest Planning Commission, presidency of the China Lake Community Council and presidency of the Kern Memorial Society.

Perhaps his best-known community contribution was the sustained, high-quality effort he and a small team of volunteers made to build what is now known as the CLOTA Center Stage. In recognition of this and other superb contributions to CLOTA, in 1982 he received the Jane Bugay Award, the organization’s highest honor.

Ted developed a love of tennis, which he played with friends on the Cerro Coso courts. He also enjoyed reading and springtime on the desert. “He loved going out and looking at the wildflowers and identifying them by their common names,” said Deanna.

During their retirement years, Ted and Eleanor also traveled to many countries, including Egypt (where they arrived the day after Anwar Sadat’s assassination), most of Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Peru, Colombia, Mexico and China.

His survivors include his wife of 72 years Eleanor Lotee, daughters Kathy Lotee and Deanna Ripley-Lotee, son-in-law Mike Ripley-Lotee, niece Mary Lucille Gallen and husband Jim, nephew David Higgs and wife Barbara, nephew Andrew Morrison and wife Ginger, niece-in-law Jeannette Higgs, seven grandnieces and nephews and seven great-grandnieces and nephews.

The family suggests in lieu of flowers contributions in Ted’s memory to CLOTA, the Maturango Museum, or the China Lake Museum Foundation.

Story First Published: 2013-03-13