James Russell Bassel

Engineer, veteran, athlete, cultural aficionado

James “Jim” Russell Bassel died February 20, 2014 at his Claremont, California home after a courageous six-year battle with prostate cancer. He was 69 years old. 

He was born on June 8, 1944 at Fort Sill, Oklahoma to Colonel Russell W. and Marguerite Spencer Bassel. He grew up in Lawton, Oklahoma where he was active in Boy Scouts and the Lawton High School marching band. A lifelong swimmer, he began swimming in early childhood. Young Jim also played several musical instruments and mastered the piano.

Mr. Bassel graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and earned his PE in civil engineering. While at OU, he was a member of the Acacia Fraternity. He completed Officer Training School at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas and was stationed at Mather Air Force Base near Sacramento, California.

During his military service, he deployed to the Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base in the city of Udon Thani in Thailand with the 11th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron as a navigator on the unarmed F-4 Phantom II.  Serving there from November 1969 to November 1970, he completed 189 missions over enemy lines. He volunteered for a number of dangerous missions including operations into Cambodia, refueling when necessary in mid-air. Under constant threat of hostile ground fire, Captain Bassel distinguished himself during aerial flights over Southeast Asia. He received numerous air medals, including the Distinguished Flying Cross. 

After his military service, Mr. Bassel moved to southern California where he resided for over 35 years and worked as a civil engineer for the US Forest Service Technology and Development Center in San Dimas, California. He was lead engineer on environmental and wildlife conservation projects throughout the federal forest system.

Mr. Bassel was physically active throughout his life. During the American Bicentennial of 1976, he bicycled across the continent in 44 days, departing from Williamsburg, Virginia and ending in Astoria, Oregon. He was the first bicyclist to complete the east to west route. He participated in century and double-century bicycle rides. Also a runner, he ran the Honolulu and San Diego marathons and many 10-kilometer races. 

Mr. Bassel was a wine enthusiast and made frequent visits to vineyards throughout his beloved California. He was also a patron of the arts, supporting the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Pasadena Playhouse and the Huntington Library and Gardens of San Marino. He enjoyed attending the symphony at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and outdoor summer concerts at the Hollywood Bowl. An opera buff, he attended operas at La Scala in Milan, Italy, Berlin, Germany, New York City, Santa Fe and San Francisco. He traveled the globe. 

An avid gardener, Mr. Bassel grew orchids and prize-winning bonsai. He attended the First Congregational Church in Los Angeles and especially loved the organ concerts held there.

He is survived by three sisters, Susan Heiligman of Palm Desert, California and Sarah Wiseman and Patricia Bassel, both of Lawton, Oklahoma; by three nephews, Lee Heiligman of Newport Beach, California, Todd Wiseman and his wife Brenda, and James Wiseman, both of Lawton, Oklahoma. Great nephews and nieces include Lucy Lee Heiligman of Newport Beach, California, Roxanne and Brendan Wiseman of Lawton, Oklahoma and Maddy Wiseman of Plano, Texas. In addition to his parents, Mr. Bassel is preceded in death by nephew Chad Heiligman, niece Aimee Wiseman and brother-in-law Dan Wiseman.

Services were held on March 15, 2014 in Lawton, Oklahoma. An open house in Mr. Bassel’s honor will be held at his Claremont residence, 730 Mansfield Drive, on Sunday, April 6 from 2 to 4 p.m.

In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the Military Child Education Coalition (www.militarychild.org).

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