Obituary: Chris Rubel
Author, storyteller, pilot, sailor, trucker, therapist, priest, chaplain
Christopher S. Rubel died peacefully on March 7 in his Claremont home surrounded by his family. He was 87 years old. Those who knew Chris knew his greatest joy in life was being able to stay connected to family and friends near and far.
After serving in the US Air Force during the Korean conflict, Mr. Rubel worked as a long-haul truck driver while in school, and the love of travel by land, and then by sea and air, stayed with him all of his life.
His education included a doctorate degree in pastoral psychology from the Claremont School of Theology. He was ordained as an Episcopal priest in 1977 and also became the Chaplain at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles and later at Inner Community Hospital in Covina.
For 43 years Mr. Rubel was a marriage and family therapist, seeing patients in Long Beach and Claremont, such as Robin Young. “If one out of every 100 men were like Chris Rubel, we’d be living in such a better world. He was the best therapist I ever had,” she said.
Mr. Rubel and his wife Katherine Hauser Rubel were the sergeant and assistant sergeant of the Claremont Twiddlers Drill Team, which began in 1986 and marched in the Claremont parades every Fourth of July until 2005.
In the 1990s, Mr. Rubel was a lead member of the Claremont Jung Society, where he and his wife met Jan Pierce, Syd Butler Bartman, and Doug and Jackie Dunn. After the Jung Society disbanded, the friends met each month for the next 20 years for “poetry group,” where they would rotate homes on Saturday nights to share wine, conversation and poetry.
“Frequently Chris would share poems that he collected over the years or authored himself,” Mr. Pierce said. “Many of the things that he wrote were humorous, many of them contained a lot of details about trucks, cars and motorcycles—many of them were beautiful and moving.”
Ms. Butler Bartman noted that the group’s discussions often became quite personal—three of the six members had backgrounds in psychology, which after a reading, would often lead Mr. Rubel to ask, “And what does that poem say about you?” But above all, she treasured his dedication to his friendships.
“He was an extrovert. Chris would find songs his dad wrote, and he and Katherine would burst into song. He remembered every birthday—always playing his trumpet—and every anniversary,” Ms. Butler Bartman said. “He always wrote thank-you cards and often dropped off surprise gifts of music or books he was excited to share. He was all about connection.”
Chris had an appreciation for authors, especially after writing his novel, Lady of the Deep. If he read something he liked he would sometimes write to the author, which often led to long-distance wonderful conversations…connections.
Mr. Rubel was a car fanatic, especially diesels, and through their mutual friend, retired Pomona College professor Michael McGaha, Mr. Rubel bestowed his prized 1995 Mercedes 300 diesel to Claremonter Gabe Silva, one of the friends who met at a weekly morning group at Some Crust Bakery.
“Chris’s stories were delightfully true and I could not get enough of them to satisfy my curiosity,” Mr. Silva shared. “Even to this day people in the Claremont Village will see his car and ask, where’s Chris?”
Mr. Rubel’s ability to connect resonates with all his friends—the poetry group, the Some Crust coffee clan and a society of retired professors who met each week at Panera in La Verne, including Mr. McGaha, a scholar of Miguel de Cervantes, an interest shared by Mr. Rubel.
Mr. McGaha said, “I admired how Chris kept learning throughout his life. He once told me that everything he had been taught was wrong—a hard lesson to come to terms with in your 80s. He even went to the School of Theology and inserted a letter in his doctoral thesis stating that he no longer believed any of the things he had written there. That was a good example of Chris’s courage and humility.”
Originally from New York, the Rubel family, including Mr. Rubel’s older sister, came west in 1935 and settled in Glendora. A younger brother was born in 1940.
His father, a veteran of WWI and WWII, and his mother were show people—his father a radio songwriter and his mother a singer and dancer—and hosted elaborate parties in their beautiful home. His father was also an Episcopal minister until he passed in 1946, and his mother was a successful Glendora realtor from 1947 until her death in 1977.
Mr. Rubel loved growing up in Glendora in the 1930s and 1940s, with the people, the celebrations, the music and the great outdoors of that time. He had an amazing memory and shared vivid pictures of those days in his stories that touched and amused so many.
But throughout his life, most important to him were the preservation and enjoyment of the spectacular mountains overlooking his city of Glendora.
Like most people who knew Mr. Rubel, Mr. Pierce held great admiration for his friend’s breadth of life experiences—from driving big rigs to sailing to kayaking to flying.
Mr. Pierce shared, “I will always remember how much ‘at home’ Chris appeared to be in this world; how easily he moved on and through all of the elements, earth, water and air. Always humble, fascinated and awed by what the world has to offer. He shared his knowledge and personal stories in many different ways.”
Each year Mr. Rubel wrote an Epiphany story, which he shared with friends and family. True or not, they were colorful treasures of the heart and a humor that will now be missed each Christmas season.
And Chris loved his family. Most special to him were having time with his two sons and being with his wife and Schnauzer Charlie in their Claremont home.
As a minister he felt it a privilege to baptize his grandson, granddaughter, great-granddaughter and great-grandsons in the Rubel Chapel, named in honor of the original Glendora Episcopal Church where his father served so many years before.
Mr. Rubel is survived by his wife, Katherine; son Scott (partner Helen); son Clarke (wife Laurie); granddaughter Julie (husband Alejandro); grandson Andrew (wife Kelly); great-granddaughter Luna; great-grandsons Mason and Ryan; and first wife, Lavon, mother of Scott and Clarke.
He was preceded in death by his brother Michael in 2007. His sister Dorchen died just weeks ago in Goleta, California.
A service and celebration of Mr. Rubel’s life will be planned for a later date, when the love can be remembered and shared with everyone together.