Obituary: Theodore Howard Garner

Descendant of iconic Claremont family, worked on Manhattan Project, pilot, beloved patriarch

Theodore (Ted) Howard Garner died recently at the age of 96.

Ted was born to Bess and Herman Garner on July 25, 1923, the youngest of the Garner boys.

He and his brothers Lee and Don grew up in Claremont’s iconic Garner House. It was just home to them. An enchanted place with gardens, a reservoir for water and swimming, a tennis court that was flooded when cold out so ice skating could happen. They loved getting the mail in the old oak tree out front. There were tunnels under the goat pens very near the tennis courts, where a children’s play area now exists. It looked very different then. There was a tower on the home where the older boys lived. He lived in the main house. It was a fun place.

And it was a happy childhood. He went to Sycamore School, a short walk away. He had trouble learning how to read, and it is suspected he had a mild case of dyslexia. Not much was known about this at the time.

Because of his struggles, he was sent to the Norton School for Boys, on Padua Avenue. There he was made to move rocks, of which there were many, back and forth in piles as a way of getting him to read properly.

“He declined to criticize that method of learning, but as a teacher it was difficult to hear of manual labor being used on children as a way of learning,” his family shared.

He played in the orange groves of Claremont. He and his father built a coaster and he would start up at the Padua Hills Theater and coast down to their home. The trick was to time it so he didn’t have to stop on Base Line Road or Foothill Boulevard. Via Zurita Street used to go through to Foothill and this was his crossing point.

He came back to Claremont High School, graduating in 1942, where he met Mary Virginia Fredendall. They were married during his time in Chicago during World War II.

His family was involved in many Claremont activities. His mother Bess was on Claremont school boards. Father Herman started Vortox, and they built the Padua Hills Theater.

Ted worked at various things. He was a photographer and took pictures for the CHS annuals, learning this from his grandfather W.O Garner, who took many glass slides, especially of flowers all over the United States.

He spun disks of copper for Claremont artist Jean Ames to enamel. He learned sheet metal working while working at Vortox, a trade that would come in handy later in his life.

He lived with his grandmother Leticia in Pomona for a while. It was there on Kenoak Drive in Pomona listening to the radio that they heard about Pearl Harbor. When the war broke out his older brothers Lee and Don were already aviators, but he did not yet fly.

He joined the US Army in 1943 and went for training and placement. He was found to be technical and since he had sheet metal experience it was decided he was to either go to be in the tank destroyers unit or assigned to a special secret division.

So off to Chicago he went. He had an interesting job. His unit only wore street clothes and only were privy to what they were working on. It was very, very secret. It turned out he was working on the Manhattan Project.

Coming back to Claremont he went to school at Pomona College, picking classes he was interested in, mostly science and mathematics. He went into business in his backyard garage, a small home on Indian Hill Boulevard a few doors from where he grew up. He designed and made balances.

His fledgling company changed directions and Garner Glass Company was born in the 1950s just south of Vortox, his father’s business. The company made small glass parts, with very tight tolerances. He made specialty glass tubing products that went into hermetic seal production, electronics assemblies, commercial applications, medical devices and various research fields. Quality was of utmost importance. It remains a thriving company today, though it is now known as King Precision.

He learned to fly in the 1950s. His first airplane was a Cessna 170, a high wing tail dragger. All of his next planes were V Tail Bonanzas housed at Cable Airport.

By this time his daughters Jane and Mary were born. The family traveled all over the country. Every New Year’s they would go out to Page, Arizona to watch the Glen Canyon Dam being built. Another favorite trip was up to the Nut Tree in Vacaville. The Nut Tree had an airstrip, a train that brought you to the main complex, a toy store, gift shop and a restaurant with wonderful food in a unique setting, as well as many large aviaries to watch birds.

His uncle Wilbur Adams had a place out at Niland, California. Wilbur was a citrus rancher, and had orange trees there, as he had previously in what is now the Blaisdell Drive neighborhood of Claremont. His uncle had Jeeps and a variety of accommodations. He also put in an airstrip for his nephew. The runway was just about at sea level and he would use every inch to get it up to speed before lifting off. It seemed like he would skim the bushes when he took off. It was a fun time. He worked long hours, leaving very early in the mornings and returning perhaps by 7 p.m. for family supper. He provided jobs for many loyal employees.

He married Lucy in 1987. They had many years of fun, flying all over the country, dancing at Carnation Gardens in Disneyland and enjoying Kauai, which he had first visited in the 1960s. He probably explored every dirt road on the island. He knew all the secret spots.

He lost Lucy in 2012. They were among one of the first residents of Pine Crest at Hillcrest, a retirement community in La Verne. For many years he maintained the Hillcrest pool.

“At one point we found him high on top of the fitness center roof checking his connection from the pool equipment to his apartment so he could always be on top of it,” his family shared.

He married Suzanne Dorn in 2013. She lived across the hall from him. It was a happy time. She died a few years later.

He took up flying again. He and Eric King flew all over and they learned from one another. Maps used to be spread all over floors and tables in the beginning of his flying days.

“We picked out the right ones for each adventure,” his family shared. “That technology has changed a bit over the years. They enjoyed these trips greatly.”

Then came Red, his Tesla.

“Being a modest, unassuming man by nature, when he pulled out a picture of a fancy red car and showed it to Mary and Chris we wondered,” his family shared. “Then he told us he had bought a red Tesla online and it was going to be delivered in a couple of weeks. It came with a big operating manual he read with relish and quickly it became a love. Every few weeks it got updates and up till the end he was always excited to see what ‘Red’ could do that was new. Yes, he was a good driver till the end. Boy, that car was interesting and a challenge to all those he invited to drive it. An amazing car for an amazing man.”

He lived at Hillcrest until his death, eight days short of his 97th birthday.

He was loved by many and is survived by his daughters Jane Garner and Mary Garner Hirsch (Chris); grandchildren Patrick and Jonathan Logsdon, and Benton Wolverton (Amy) and Katie Bartosh (Robert); and great-grandchildren Melia and Robbie Bartosh.

One of his favorite things was desserts. “Washington Monuments at Betsy Ross Ice Cream,” his family shared. “When he was feeling especially wild, he would eat dessert first!”

Lots of people were important to him. Carol and Jack Dillion were his best friends and they often went out to meals and to the Candlelight Pavilion dinner theater.

The Pong Family fed him and watched over him. Thanks to all the Pongs, they were his extended family. Tim Brayton was first his lawyer and then his friend. All Lucy’s family and Suzanne’s became family and stayed in touch with him. Connie Nelson was a great friend; they liked to go out to drive the Tesla, which Connie (from Connie and Dick’s fame), as a car guy, loved.

He had a special relationship with Chris Garner Hirsch, Mary’s husband. They would talk clocks: grandfather, mantle, weighted, sprung and cuckoo. He was training Chris to fix them when he died.

“Many people loved and admired this humble, quiet man who wore white long-sleeved shirts year-round, black shoes and black pants,” his family shared. “On Saturdays he let himself go and wore a blue long-sleeved shirt. We always celebrated ‘Blue Shirt Day’ on Saturday.”

“He was a man of many talents, interests and friends,” said Carol and Jack Dillion. “He was also a man of few words, like his father Herman, but spoke volumes in his interactions with many, young and old alike. He loved helping others. He leaves behind an amazing legacy of integrity, gentleness, kindness and generosity that we all can continue to learn from and emulate in our own lives.”

Mr. Garner’s daughter Mary wishes to thank the Garner family, Lucy and Suzanne’s family, Linda Battram, and Jack and Carol Dillion for their invaluable help with this obituary.


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