China Lake, community leader leaves legacy of accomplishment

China Lake, community leader leaves legacy of accomplishmentCaesar John Di Pol died in Ridgecrest Regional Hospital on June 6, 2014, with loving family members by his bedside. During his nearly 64 years in our valley, he accumulated a lasting legacy of accomplishment and numerous friends on both sides of the China Lake fence.

“He was just delightful,” said Eleanor Johnsen, who John hired as China Lake’s first female head of staff. “He was fair, he was funny, he was very caring — just a fine, fine person with a high value system.”

A viewing will be from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Friday, June 13, with a rosary immediately following at the H.K. Holland Memorial Chapel. His funeral will be on Saturday, June 14, 10 a.m. St. Ann’s Church.

John was born Sept. 3, 1925, in the small village of Colle Di Arba in Northern Italy. At the age of five he emigrated with his mother to the U.S. in 1930 to join his father who had preceded them to work in Pasadena, Calif.

John started school the following year, learned English very quickly and continued through elementary and secondary schools in the Los Angeles area, graduating from South Gate High School in June 1943.

He had enlisted in the Naval Reserve the preceding month and after graduation was ordered to active duty on July 1, 1943. He was commissioned as an officer and received his BSME degree from Iowa State College in March, 1946, upon completion of training in the Navy’s V-12 program, followed by several months’ duty aboard USS Montpelier (CL-57).

He returned to civilian life in Los Angeles in late 1946, but continued to serve in the Naval Reserve for many years, ultimately being placed on the retired list in 1985.

Shortly after his arrival in Los Angeles, he met his future wife, Dolores. They were married in April 1948.

In 1950 John was working for the Sandberg-Serrell Corporation, a small engineering firm in Pasadena, specializing in the design of the nozzle and test sections of transonic wind tunnels. With business slowing down in the latter part of 1950 and with Dolores expecting their first child, John applied for employment through the Office of Naval Research, which had an office in Pasadena.

Shortly thereafter, he received a phone call from the Naval Ordnance Test Station, Inyokern. John came for interview and was offered a position which he accepted, all on the same day. He started to work at China Lake in October 1950, with Dolores and infant child joining him in late December when housing became available.

John had a rewarding and productive career at China Lake, progressing through various technical and management positions.

In one of many career highlights, his comprehensive knowledge of the Naval Weapons Center’s technical facilities and range and airspace resources led to his appointment by the Joint Chiefs of Staff as the leader of a tri-service task team to report on the military requirements and assets of the southwestern U.S.

That study directly resulted in numerous improvements to the facilities of the Upper Mojave Desert were made, with new airspace coordination arrangements allowing all services to operate and share range assets in a safer, more productive way. As a result of that study and of his excellence in other aspects of RDT&E leadership, John received China Lake’s highest honor, the L.T.E. Thompson Award, in 1975.

His other citations included the Michelson Laboratories Award in Management and the Secretary of the Navy’s Distinguished Civilian Service Medal, awarded at the time of his retirement in 1981.

After 31 distinguished years at China Lake, he spent the last 33 years of his life popularizing our valley’s rich history, playing a central role in the rebirth of Ridgecrest’s former County Building as the Historic USO Building and sharing his concept of the roles our valley can and should play in the nation’s defense.

After retirement, John became a member of the Ridgecrest Planning Commission for several years. He was a charter member of the Historical Society of the Upper Mojave Desert, the Maturango Museumsm and the China Lake Museum Foundation, which he served until his death as an emeritus director. He was also the coordinator for many years of HSUMD’s participation in the Sand Canyon Environmental Education Program.

His book, “Tales of the Upper Mojave Desert and the Eastern Sierras,” published by HSUMD last year, offers the public a spectrum of entertaining and educational articles about the fascinating history that surrounds us.

John lived a full and active life. He had a wide range of interests, was an avid reader and was active with many professional, fraternal, church and community organizations.?But most of all, he was a loving father and grandfather and a devoted husband.

He is survived by Dolores, his devoted wife of 66 years; daughter Annette and son-in-law Craig Mickle of Gilbert, Ariz.; daughter Loretta and son-in-law Jaime Cummins of Seattle, Wash.; son John and daughter -in-law Linda Di Pol of Redondo Beach; and son Joseph and daughter-in-law Laura Di Pol of Sunnyvale.

More survivors are his grandchildren Aaron and Kim Mickle, Lauren Mickle, Caitlin and Paul Gonzales, Sarah and Molly Cummins, Daniella and Nicholas Di Pol, and Leah and Riley Di Pol; great- grandsons Cesare Gonzales and Miles Mickle; sisters-in-law Maryanne Di Pol, Rusty Casagranda and Helen Casagranda; cousin Mirella Di Pol; and numerous nieces and nephews.

John is predeceased by his parents Cesare Di Pol and Santina Avon Di Pol; his brother Chester Di Pol, and his great-grandson Bello Santo Gonzales.

Donations in his memory may be made to St. Ann School, the China Lake Museum Foundation, the Historical Society of the Upper Mojave Desert or the Maturango Museum.

Photo by LIz Babcock

Story First Published: 2014-06-11