Airplane ride at SP Airport opening led Roger Harvey to life of flight
By Peggy Kelly
Santa Paula News
Published: February 20, 2013
On the August day in 1930 that Santa Paula Airport was dedicated, 8-year-old Roger Harvey not only got his first airplane but also discovered his passion for flight.
“It was a Bache tri-motor” that longtime friend and airport historian Janice Dickenson said Roger and other boys had earned the ride in by “pitching rocks off the runway” during airport construction. Roger’s passion for airplanes included the B-17s he flew during World War II, private flight enterprises Roger later juggled with his other business interests, and the freedom to take off to travel wherever life took him.
Roger’s last flight was February 4, 2013, when he passed at Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara following a sudden illness. Family members surrounded the 90-year-old Roger when he passed.
Born Roger McConnell Harvey June 24, 1922 in Santa Paula, Roger grew up on his parents’ Arroyo del Oso Rancho. He graduated from Santa Paula High School, Class of 1940, and attended Ventura College, but the war soon beckoned Roger and his brother Wayne to service.
Roger joined the Army Air Corps and was a B-17 pilot with the 398th Bomber Group stationed in England. He flew 32 missions over Germany and Poland leading up to and including “D Day.” A 1st Lieutenant, Roger was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal, and three Oak Leaf Clusters.
After the war Roger supported his family raising cattle on the Harvey Properties, flying air charter for Basset Flight Service, and as an insurance broker for the Santa Paula Insurance Agency, a company started by his father in 1939.
Roger believed in being involved, and he served on the Ventura County Grand Jury and the VC Sheriff’s Search & Rescue Unit. He was a Past Master of Santa Paula Masonic Lodge 291, and a member of the Shriners and Eastern Star.
“Roger truly was one of a kind... he was respected because he earned it,” said Bruce Dickenson, who knew Roger “my entire life.... He was involved with the airport from the time I was a child,” serving on the board of directors with Bruce, his father Don and grandfather Ralph, an airport founder. Roger was “Instrumental to the board; he was the treasurer, the secretary.”
“He was the right hand man,” said Janice, “to all three generations.”
Bruce noted Roger’s dedication to aviation included service on the Ventura County Aviation Commission, where “He was well respected for his input. And as far as our own airport went, Roger was instrumental in negotiations... when someone had to get hardnosed” Roger would often handle it, sometimes in a legendary manner.
When Roger and the airport faced a series of bureaucratic delays in filling old fuel tanks, it took a landslide that closed South Mountain Road to resolve the matter. Government repair crews had only one way to access the slide area - Roger’s property.
A deal was struck, and two days later road crews were working on the road. And at their airport, the 54 dangerous open trenches that once held the now banned fuel tanks were finally filled in. “Roger,” said Bruce, “was amazing.”
Roger knew his stuff, whether about planes, airport characters or facts about WWII that led to his being featured in several Aviation Museum of Santa Paula videos. “He never winced, he never gave it a second thought,” said Bruce. “Roger would be glad to help... it was just the way he was.”
Paul Leavens went from being the kid next door to the Harvey family’s getaway at Faria Beach to sharing morning coffee with Roger on a regular basis. “Roger was about 10 years older than me; he always had boats going in and out” that, Paul said, “would take all the boys at the beach fishing... they really appreciated it.”
For years both have belonged to a Café 126 weekday coffee group: “Roger always had a new story, he was the storyteller of storytellers. He had so many experiences it was enough for three lives!”
Paul said Roger was “a straightforward hitter” with an “incredible memory” that encompassed the decades, and “knew more people than anybody I ever knew. He sure had a lot of experiences,” including those of wartime and bombers, a font of things to share.
“He was a fun guy to be around,” and on the rare occasions Roger would start to repeat a story Paul would “raise my fingers to let him know how many times we’d heard it before. He was good-natured about it.”
Another favorite subject of Roger’s was his wife Marilyn: “He and Marilyn had a wonderful marriage... it just isn’t the same without him,” said Paul.
Café 126 server Sandra Barrios, who has worked for the Saticoy eatery for more than 11 years, agreed. Roger, said Sandra, would always greet her with “’Hello Sunshine!’ I’d say ‘Hello Roger Rabbit!’ He would tell us all kinds of stories, talk about how much he loved his wife.”
Roger loved to socialize with those in his group, and Sandra pointed out their personalized coffee mugs hung on the wall. She noted he would also visit with other regulars who prefer outside seating.
Roger’s love of boating, hunting, fishing and scuba diving took him to various places, Baja Mexico and Canada, where his summer home on Vancouver Island also allowed him to explore the Inland Passage. Marilyn said Roger also loved the High Sierras, and he made an annual pilgrimage to his camp, “his big love, Templeton Meadows near Mount Whitney, that was his favorite place to go” until it was declared a wilderness area off limits to airplanes.
Marilyn and Roger married in 2000 and moved to Poinsettia Gardens, where he served on the governing board as property manager contracting for park maintenance and the handy work he was famed for, from simple fixes to complex electrical work. He would walk two miles a day, and remained active up until the day before he passed.
“He enjoyed the Super Bowl, had a couple of bourbons, went to bed” and had a stroke that he passed away from less than 24 hours later, said Roger’s son Michael Harvey. “He was using a chain saw to cut down trees right up to the day he had the stroke,” a reflection of Roger’s strength and the determination that led him to still ride a motorbike.
Two years ago, said Michael, Roger “dumped his bike on Telegraph Road going about 45 mph.... he lived life the way he wanted and was able to enjoy it all up through 90 years.”
Roger was a man of many loyalties, but one of the strongest was to veterans. A longtime member of Mercer-Prieto VFW Post #2043, Roger was the featured speaker at the 2010 Memorial Day Observance and told the crowd that those that serve must never be forgotten.
“The next time children attend a parade and watch our flag leading it,” Roger said they should be asked “to look at the crowd and find some of us who are there... it’s not hard to tell who is a veteran and who is not. The veterans stand erect and quiet, their eyes get a little watery when Old Glory passes by... their lips purse a bit and their jaws are tense,” said Roger, “because they know what the Stars and Stripes stand for.”
He is survived by his son, Mike (Jean) Harvey; daughters, Marilyn Harvey (Pat) Nollan, Betsy (Randy) Pedrini, and Katie (Greg) Everett; and wife Marilyn Marzano Harvey; as well as the delight of his life, 10 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
The Memorial Service will be on Friday, February 22 at 2 p.m. at St. Paul’s/Emmanuel Church, 117 N. 7th St., Santa Paula.
Donations in Roger’s memory may be made to Santa Paula Airport Museum, 800 E. Santa Maria St., Santa Paula, CA 93060; Shriner’s Children’s Hospital, 3160 Geneva St., Los Angeles, CA 90020; and St. Paul’s/Emmanuel Church at the above address.