UWCD: Headquarters dedicated in honor of late water leader ‘Irv’ Wilde
By Peggy Kelly
Santa Paula News
Published: January 15, 2014
By Peggy Kelly
Santa Paula Times
For a man whose life was intricately linked with water it was amazing what a dry wit George Irvin “Irv” Wilde was famed for.
In the 1980s, after United Water Conservation District General Manager Wilde and government officials co-signed documents securing the loan for the creation of the Freeman Diversion in Washington, DC then-Secretary of the Interior Paul Hodel kept the pen.
“It was just a funny old Bic,” said John Dickenson, the retired UWCD engineering and water resources manager.
Months later that same pen came back to the UWCD offices, a gift from Hodel now mounted and framed to denote the historic signing.
“If I had known they were going to frame it,” said Wilde, “I would have used a better pen...”
The story was told at Thursday’s dedication of the UWCD headquarters now named in Wilde’s honor, a celebration attended by family and friends as well as those who worked with Wilde at UWCD, located at the corner of Main and 8th streets
“I’m so thrilled,” said Joy Finley of Upland, Wilde’s daughter.
“I just know Grandfather would have really, really enjoyed this,” said Cliff Finley of Santa Paula, who followed Wilde’s public service path as Santa Paula’s former public works director and now is Thousand Oaks’ City Engineer/Deputy Public Works Director.
Dedicating the headquarters to Wilde was the only logical choice according to Ken Breitag, UWCD executive coordinator, who said suitable honors had been discussed even before Wilde passed December 3, 2012, just a month after his 97th birthday.
Wilde had been involved in so many UWCD projects: he started as staff engineer with UWCD in 1951-one of the first employees-shortly after its transition from Santa Clara River Water Conservation District. Wilde stayed with UWCD until 1965, a period that included the building of Santa Felicia Dam (Lake Piru).
Although from 1965 to 1981 Wilde was general manager of Santa Paula Water Works, he was a UWCD Board Director from 1973-1981, representing Division 2.
He returned to UWCD in 1981 as general manager and served in that capacity until he retired in 1987. During his tenure Wilde was instrumental in the development of Freeman Diversion and Pumping Trough Pipeline and in the Oxnard-Hueneme System expansion.
Although there were numerous choices, “In terms of what made the most sense because of so much he was involved in,” Breitag said dedicating the building in Wilde’s honor was the logical one.
Official business always had a sense of fun when Wilde was along said Lynn Maulhardt, president of the UWCD Board of Directors.
He noted one Washington trip in particular where board directors started calling the tall and elegant Wilde “Senator” and acted as his aides, a role Wilde played so well-albeit with a twinkle in his eye-that strangers assumed he was an elected official.
“It was that kind of fun that we had with Irv,” said Maulhardt.
Wilde was born in Sacramento, California, on November 4, 1915. He graduated from Stanford University in 1937 with a degree in General Engineering. While at Stanford he met Flora Delphine Joy of Santa Paula, and they married in 1939.
By then Wilde was with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation as a civil engineer involved in the earliest days of the monumental Central Valleys Water Project. Later came a job at Bechtel Corporation before the couple decided to settle down in Santa Paula, where Wilde became a citrus rancher with his father-in-law.
But his love of engineering won out when Wilde joined UWCD where he was able to indulge his devotion to the preservation of a healthful, sustainable water supply for industry, agriculture and personal use... and its management and protection was his life’s work.
Maulhardt said even stronger than Wilde’s always-present sense of humor was his dedication to water and the mission of the district.
Board Director Sheldon Berger agreed, noting that during a trip to the nation’s Capitol he and Wilde lunched at the Watergate Hotel where Wilde objected to the cost...and refused to charge UWCD for the meal.
All in all, said Berger, “Irv helped out this district in ways nobody else could do,” from finances to facilities.
When the plaque was unveiled cake was served to those in attendance, including Irv’s longtime companion and helper Alma Amador.
“He was always so kind, so much fun,” said Amador. “I really miss him...”
“If they were really doing it right they would have had Baby Ruths,” said Maulhardt of the candy Wilde always had a seemingly endless supply of.
Another supply Wilde often worried about was that of water and Joy Finley said her father often expressed concerns on its availability.
“He loved water, he worked with water and it was an overwhelming interest,” she noted.
Finley said her father “Loved his work, was dedicated to it and never complained...he enjoyed the people he worked with.”
Those traits are recognized on the wall plaque in the UWCD lobby bearing Wilde’s image and noting the building now bears his name due to his “Four decades of leadership, innovation and hard work.”