Honorary Mayor Howard Auld dies at age 88
Longtime Ridgecrest-China Lake benefactor Howard Auld died at Ridgecrest Regional Hospital on Sunday afternoon, Dec. 29, 2013, surrounded by his loving family. He was 88 years old and had spent a remarkable 69 of those 88 years in the Indian Wells Valley serving our nation and our community.
It was the mission of Howard and his wife Barbara to have the whole Indian Wells Valley support the symbiotic relationship that exists between China Lake and the rest of the IWV community.
When Howard and Barbara were unanimously chosen in 1997 to receive the IWV 2000 Award for Positive Community Leadership, IWV 2000 boardmember Kathy Vejtasa summed up the character traits that earned the Aulds the title “Mr. and Mrs. Ridgecrest.”
“They are not individuals who say, ‘Somebody ought to do something,’” said Vejtasa, “but rather ‘What can we do?’”
In keeping with Howard’s wishes, no public service is planned.
Howard, the son of Andrew and Estella Auld, was born on Dec. 16, 1925, in East Weymouth, Mass., and appears to have arrived with that idea of community service fully formed. After graduation from Weymouth High School in 1943, he worked at the local shipyard helping to build World War II destroyer escorts at the rate of a ship every three days.
Shortly after his 18th birthday, Howard entered Navy service. After basic training and service school at Iowa State University, he was assigned to the U.S. Naval Ordnance Test Station, Inyokern.
Arriving by bus at the NOTS Main Gate in the middle of the night, Sept. 24, 1944, he had a hard time finding a place to bunk down. He slept in a tent for his first few months at NOTS.
Howard’s first assignment, in the Public Works Electric Shop, required him to learn how to climb power poles. Among many tasks, he helped string the power line out G Range Road.
Whenever Howard finished a work order, he took it to be recorded by a pretty young lady in the Electric Shop office — Barbara Huff. Howard asked her for a date in July 1945; they were married that August and have been an inseparable duo ever since.
When Howard was discharged from the Navy in June 1946, the Aulds decided to stay in the Indian Wells Valley, reasoning, as Howard said, “This is a good place to learn an occupation, to get a good start in life and raise children.”
And raise children they did, with Christine arriving in 1946, Bruce in 1948 and Eileen in 1952. As the Auld family grew, Howard became an electrical planner/estimator, then head of the Public Works Planning and Estimating Branch.
Always learning from his varied assignments, from night courses at the NOTS Training Center and from correspondence and college courses, Howard was able to pass the engineering equivalency exam in 1964. “I like to say I have a Ph.D. in NWC,” he joked.
He later secured his bachelor’s degree in management from Redlands University.
As an electrical engineer, Howard moved into the Public Works Engineering Division where he worked as a contract engineering specifications writer.
In 1965 he joined the Propulsion Development Department to accomplish electrical and mechanical engineering facilities design. There, and in subsequent assignments for the Weapons Department, he worked on a wide variety of technical programs, notably CHAFFROC, the Ships Ordnance Infrared Decoy and the Surface Effects Ship. In 1974 he was one of only nine early-timers to receive the first Naval Weapons Center 30-year pins.
Howard received a Technical Director’s Award in 1977 for his success as the project engineer responsible for directing the Vertical Launch Standard Missile Prototyping Program.
After he retired from China Lake in 1979, he spent 10 years doing the same sort of engineering work for contract engineering companies, including Comarco Industries.
The whole time he was in the technical community, Howard was also a mover and shaker in the China Lake community. His many contributions included membership on the China Lake Community Council, chairmanship of the NOTS Employee-Management Council, service as cubmaster of Boy Scout Pack 12 and years of active involvement in the All Faith Chapel, including as Sunday School superintendent.
When China Lake held its first Bike Rodeo, Howard (representing the Ridgecrest-China Lake Optimist Club) led the parade. The event, dreamed up by Howard, was designed to educate youngsters on bike safety.
All that was while the Aulds lived in China Lake. After they moved to Ridgecrest in the early 1970s, their community service went into high gear.
Howard served on the Ridgecrest Planning Commission for 10 years and on the Ridgecrest City Council for more than eight years. Just sitting on the council was never enough for him, though — he went to meetings all over the state, serving on the Air Pollution Control Board, as a representative to the League of California Cities and more.
During the 1990s, when our community experienced a downturn, Howard and Barbara traveled all over the Southwestern United States carrying the word about the superb technical resources available in our valley and about the synergy that could be achieved through a Southwest Defense Alliance.
They worked closely with Phil Arnold, Bill Porter and others during massive community efforts to defend China Lake during two Base Realignment and Closure processes. The Aulds have also been major participants in and funders of many other major community efforts.
One notable success for Howard came when he fathered RidgeNet. Realizing that the Internet age was upon us and that Ridgecrest would need an Internet service provider, he made the first such local provider happen. He was also instrumental in creating the Ridgecrest business incubator that helped start several local businesses.
Among other organizations Howard has been in, usually as an officer, were the Ridgecrest-China Lake Optimist Club, the Desert Empire Fair, the Senior Services of I.W.V., the Ridgecrest Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and IWV 2000. He and Barbara have long been individual members of the Ridgecrest Chamber of Commerce. Their comic appearances were highlights of numerous Star Follies.
Over the years, Howard came up with numerous innovative community-betterment ideas, with his successes including programs to train local babysitters and to coordinate volunteer handymen to assist elderly people who needed repairs around the house.
When President John F. Kennedy visited here on June 7, 1963, Howard literally smoothed the way as coordinator of routes for the presidential motorcade. Ever since then Howard has worked toward his dream of having another presidential visit to our valley.
That hasn’t happened, but after much effort, Howard and Barbara were delighted when they instituted an invitation to invite Assistant Secretary of the Navy Juan Garcia, a Burroughs High School graduate, to return to his hometown as a featured speaker for Ridgecrest’s May 2010 Armed Forces Day event. Garcia moved his busy schedule around to be here, and he has since been a valuable Washington resource for our town.
Following their usual procedure of seeing a need and making it happen, Howard and Barbara coordinated Armed Forces Day events for a decade, ceasing their effort only as they realized that the workload was a bit heavy for two octogenarians.
Other gifts they gave the community included luncheons in honor of World War II veterans, as well as “Meet, Greet and Eat” luncheons, which Howard said were intended to “put into action a synergism of ideas and strategies for business retention, expansion and recruitment.”
The Aulds’ idea was to invite community leaders to a free lunch, then stand back and let them exchange ideas and business cards. “Your participation made the event well worth the doing,” Howard told a room full of attendees.
Among the many awards Howard received was the Kern Council of Governments Award for Lifetime Achievement. In typical Howard style, he didn’t just sit on his laurels, but worked successfully with Barbara ever since to nominate other worthy citizens of our valley for the honor.
In May 2010 the Aulds received the China Lake Quality of Life Award for unfailingly supporting Ridgecrest and China Lake in the importance of military missions and community support of them. The award has been presented only twice, first to William Gentry and then to Howard and Barbara.
In Howard’s spare time, he was a prolific poet and artist.
With all these accomplishments, the one that made Howard the most proud is his family, which has achieved an Auld legacy of excellence in the field of education and in other endeavors that benefit our community.
He is survived by his wife Barbara; son Bruce and his wife Ann; daughter Christine and her husband Paul Meyers; daughter Eileen and her husband Bob Pearl; grandchildren Bryan Auld and wife Jessica, Amy and her husband Mike de Geus, Jeremy Meyers and his wife Mary Ann, Heather Ostash, and Caby and Madeline Beach.
He is also survived by 12 great-grandchildren, Christopher, Carter, Nolan and Parker Meyers; Aden and Annalise Ostash; Alyssa, Taylor and Conner Auld; Avery Hilligus; Dylan de Geus and Ashley Beach, with one on the way; as a well as cherished nieces and nephews.
As planned, his and Barbara’s ashes, when her time comes, will lie together in the veterans’ section of Desert Memorial Park’s rose garden, surrounded by the desert valley and mountains they have always loved.
For those choosing to honor Howard’s memory, his family suggests donations to Senior Services of I.W.V., the Maturango Museum, the China Lake Museum Foundation, the Desert Empire Fair, Cerro Coso Community College Foundation, B Mountain Foundation or any community betterment organization of the donor’s choosing.Story First Published: 2014-01-08