Remembering George Gaekle

By Russ Jackson, with contributions by Art Lloyd, Bruce Jenkins and several of his close friends

George Gaekle at the RailPAC Annual Meeting in Oakland in April 2003, seated next to our then youngest member, Matt Melzer (Russ Jackson photo)

George Gaekle, 88, passed away May 24, 2010.  He was a RailPAC Director and associate director, NARP Director, and a long time advocate of improving the rail passenger opportunities particularly in the San Joaquin Valley.  One of the founding members of the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee, Mr. Gaekle represented Stanislaus County continuously until he stepped down from the Committee at its most recent meeting, where he spoke in favor of the Bakersfield to Los Angeles route across the Tehachapis which he had been advocating for many years.   He was a retired City Administrator for Modesto, where he lived, and various other cities in the San Joaquin Valley.   This writer will miss George’s flair for speaking his mind and for our many conversations on board trains and at meetings.

Here are some of the tributes we received which tell you about George Gaekle:

From SJVRC Chairman John Pedroza:  “The news of George Gaekle’s passing is very sad.  George has been committed for years to improving passenger rail and was one of the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee’s founding members.  He was diligent in attending Committee meetings throughout Central California and was also quite active with other rail associations.  His dedication to passenger rail will be missed.”

From RailPAC President, Paul Dyson:  “When I think of the tremendous physical effort it took George to travel to meetings over the past few years, I can only say that he was a true activist. Somehow, helped by his daughter, he made it to our January Sacramento meeting and down to L.A. for April 17.  He was an ideas man too and clearly understood the issues.  A true friend of passenger rail.”

From RailPAC-NARP’s Matt Melzer:  “He certainly never stopped traveling.  As recently as a year and a half ago, I saw him and one of his daughters on the Coast Starlight in Oregon.  George took an early interest in encouraging my involvement as a rail advocate.  Soon after my first RailPAC and NARP meetings circa age 14, I could reliably expect George to call to see how I was doing, both in my advocacy and in life in general.  Those regular calls continued for over a decade until not long before his passing.  It’s clear that I was just one beneficiary of his enthusiasm, by far secondary to the traveling public, whose lot was surely improved by his work as a rail advocate.”

From RailPAC Treasurer Bill Kerby:  “I believe George said that he served as county executive for eleven California counties.  He was as tenacious in the pursuit of improving the administration of local governments as he was for passenger rail.  George explained to us, while sipping refreshments aboard a San Joaquin on one of the frequent journeys to the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee, that the birth of his passion for rail began with street cars and interurban cars in the Midwest.  His interest in rail never waned.  He was a good man who will be greatly missed by me personally and the rail advocacy community collectively.”

RailPAC extends condolences to George’s wife, Iris, and the family!

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