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Eugene David Pettler

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December 21, 1920 - August 13, 2015 In a word, he fixed. He fixed machines, itineraries, and food, all while joking and proving his point. He fixed across the country and around the world, and his 94 years of life are now fixed in a few paragraphs and a plot with coordinates in Arizona and many memories. In 1920, Eugene David Pettler was born in Beaver Falls, PA. Soon after his birth, his family moved to the Fairfax neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA. In the late 1920s/early 1930s, they returned to Beaver Falls, where Eugene began his flying career as a barnstormer pilot. A military career began with the onset of WWII. He taught flying for the Navy off of Chicago's Navy Pier. He subsequently flew transport for the Navy during the war, with routes linking such far-flung nodes as India, Brazil and Ghana. At a time when so many political futures from the war were yet undecided, the Prussian Jewish pilot from Pennsylvania flew a Saudi Prince (future King Saud bin Abdul-Aziz al-Saud) on a diplomatic mission in West Africa. According to family lore, the prince wanted to know the direction of Mecca for prayer while on the plane - Eugene indicated the proper orientation. The prince gave him a watch in gratitude. After the war, Eugene was a commercial pilot for Pan American Airways (Pan Am). Prior to the war he had attended Geneva College (Beaver Falls, PA) and Carnegie Tech (Pittsburgh, PA - today Carnegie Mellon), completing his bachelor's degree in engineering after the war at Heald College in San Francisco, CA. Eugene married Sandra (née Goldberg) in 1948, having been set up on a blind date by his brother's wife and Sandra's sister (all lived in Oakland). Soon after their marriage Eugene and Sandra moved to Ventura, CA where Eugene was employed as a city electrical inspector. They had two daughters, Lynne (born in 1949) and Gail (born in 1950). The family moved to Altadena, CA in 1953 where Eugene began work on aeronautic instrumentation at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) - he continued his work in aeronautics when the family moved to Seattle, WA in 1954. This work carried them to Van Nuys, CA in 1958. There he was employed at various aeronautic firms, notably North American Aviation where he worked on the Apollo Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) that landed on the moon, and later with Hughes Apache Helicopter, concentrating on vibration tolerances. Eugene and Sandra moved to Arizona in the mid 1980s when McDonnell Douglas bought Hughes and relocated the plant; he retired in the late 1980s. In addition to his professional life as an engineer, Eugene enjoyed fly-fishing and deep-water fishing throughout his life and taught many of his nieces and nephews to appreciate the sport. He was also an avid Ham Radio operator, sixty-year member of the Masons and Shriners and longtime donor to the City of Hope. He loved bowling, flying and bike riding as well as cooking - his chili and latkes became instantly famous among all who tasted them. He loved eating and entertaining - many stories have emerged from relatives of joking, pranking, drinking and snacking; he was often adorned with a gold chain and always a jaunty hat. He was devoted to religious life; he helped found brotherhoods at three temples (Beth Torah in Ventura, CA; Temple Judea in Tarzana, CA; and Temple Chai in Phoenix, AZ) and was on the National Board of Jewish Temple Brotherhoods in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He took pride in the sponsorship of university Hillels throughout the country in conjunction with his work with the National Brotherhood. He is fondly remembered as stubborn, caring, and technically astute with a singular sense of humor. After retirement, he spent the 1990s taking devoted care of his wife Sandra as she became progressively debilitated. She passed away in 2000. Poor health forced him to move back to Los Angeles to be closer to relatives, under the loving primary care of his daughter Gail. Severe dementia ensued over his last nine years; he passed away on August 13, 2015 and spent his last few days surrounded by loved ones. His wife, brother and sister predeceased Eugene. His surviving immediate relatives include daughters Lynne Pettler Heckman of Chicago, IL (and her husband, James Heckman), Gail Pettler of Woodland Hills, CA (and her husband Douglas Cotler) as well as four grandchildren: Jonathan Heckman (and his wife Darlyn Heckman), Kyle Cotler, Alma Heckman and Noah Cotler; and two great-grand children: Emma and Ella Heckman. Eugene Pettler is buried in Green Acres Cemetery in Scottsdale, AZ fixed alongside his beloved wife.
Published in the Los Angeles Times from Aug. 22 to Aug. 23, 2015
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