Community mourns loss of Joe McKenzie

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Community  mourns loss  of Joe McKenziePictured: The late Joe McKenzie (center) playing violin with the Desert Community Orchestra. — Photo by Laura Austin


With the passing of Joe McKenzie this weekend, the community lost a pillar of faith, family, music and innovation.

His loved ones will gather this Saturday, Dec. 2, for a celebration of life at 11 a.m. at Grace Lutheran Church. (For more information, see his obituary, this edition).

Joe is remembered by his loved ones as a leader in the four realms of his life that were most important to him — his family, his church, his work at China Lake and countless musical endeavors in the Indian Wells Valley.

“Music was a very big part of his life,” recalled his wife of 52 years, Carol Sue. “He loved going to all the concerts and plays we could work into our schedules.”

That does not include those he participated in as a pianist, organist and violinist.

“We actually shared a music stand in college,” recalled Carol Sue, who attended Oklahoma State University as a freshman when her husband was a senior. “At the time I was going with someone, and he was getting ready to leave.”

But when he returned to pursue his master’s degree, the two got better acquainted through activities related to their Christian Scientist organization at the university.

Joe went to work for the Navy in Corona in 1963. His group was transferred to Naval Weapons Center China Lake in 1970. By the time he retired he was head of the Fuze and Proximity Sensors Technology Section.

He holds seven patents for various inventions during his career, and was selected a senior fellow in 1989.

When China Lake begin losing senior technologists and managers during the defense drawdown of the 1990s, McKenzie recognized the need for senior leadership.

“As section head, he developed an innovative mentoring and training program for the section, resulting in increased cross-training, technical exposure and efficient use of personnel as well as more rapid personal growth for his employees,” reads a commendation from Rear Adm. D. B. McKinney, who awarded McKenzie the Navy Meritorious Civilian Service Award.

“Your technical expertise and mentoring of our junior engineers have been an outstanding contribution to the operational effectiveness to the Navy of today and the future. Your superb efforts reflect favorably on yourself and have significantly contributed to the mission accomplishment of the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division.”

“Mentoring was very important to Joe,” said Carol Sue. “He had so many interests outside of engineering, and he was very good with people, so I know a lot of the young engineers came to him for advice. And he was like a walking encyclopedia, so he could talk about almost anything.”

Even as he pursued his career, music was a big part of Joe’s life. He accompanied the string students in his wife’s studio and helped nurture the talents of his children, Steven and Bonnie.

That investment only grew in his retirement, when he played organ for church as well as piano and violin in the Desert Community Orchestra and numerous ensembles in the community.

“He was so generous with his time for other people,” said Carol Sue. “And he was curious about everything. He researched anything he wanted to know about.

“He was always inventing things. We still have things around the house — he could always find a better way to do something.”

Carol Sue lamented the unfinished work of Joe, who was taken unexpectedly after a brief illness. “That’s a big loss to our world, thinking about his projects that might not get developed.”

She and her family are looking into his documentation in hopes that some of those projects can be salvaged.

“I think that everything in his life was the result of his upbringing, and his decision to follow Jesus as his example. He wanted to live a moral, Christian life, based on his walk with God. And that was something he took very seriously.”

— Among the countless souls in our community who will miss Joe are the staff of the News Review, who benefited from his vast stores of knowledge, his gracious demeanor and his commitment to improve everything and everyone he encountered. — Ed.

Story First Published: 2017-12-01