Members of the Santa Clarita Valley community from all walks of life are in mourning this week after the sudden death of Duane Harte early Monday morning.
The U.S. Navy veteran, longtime community activist and noted volunteer, and current chair of the city of Santa Clarita's Parks, Recreation and Community Services commission died of a massive heart attack in Valencia, California, at the age of 68.
Harte had just wrapped up a strenuous several days coordinating the annual Festival of Trees benefit gala for the Santa Clarita Valley Boys & Girls Club on Saturday evening. His wife Pauline Harte was at his side at that event as she has been at so many others over the years.
Harte complained of fatigue and chest pains Sunday, cleanup day, and the couple went to Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital in the early evening, Pauline said. An EKG showed no issues with his heart, but he adamantly opted not to stay at the hospital overnight for observation.
Once home in River Village, at about 2:30 a.m., Harte suffered a massive heart attack, she said. He could not be revived despite extensive efforts by paramedics at home, in the ambulance and at the Henry Mayo emergency room, where he was pronounced dead Monday at about 3 a.m.
Family Shocked, Devastated
Pauline Harte and longtime family friend Bob Kellar, Santa Clarita's mayor pro-tem, were at her husband's side. She and the couple's two grown daughters, Denise and Donna, were devastated, Kellar said Monday.
News of Harte's sudden passing spread fast Monday via phone, text and social media, delivering a shocking morning wakeup. Many SCV residents knew of and appreciated his seemingly tireless volunteer spirit and love for all things Santa Clarita, without seeking personal recognition. Social media posts from locals expressed shock and disbelief, and condolences to the family.
"Shock is the biggest feeling toward this day," Denise wrote on her Facebook page Monday.
"I am overwhelmed and humbled by the outpouring of love and compassion the community has shown my family. Still in disbelief, we are completely grief-stricken. The loss of my dad this morning was more than unexpected. Heartbroken and saddened, and feeling a little lost without the rock that my dad is and was."
"It's true he was the heart of the Santa Clarita Valley and Santa Clarita," Pauline Harte said Wednesday, fighting back tears as she spoke on the phone at length with this reporter. "I'm just so appreciative that everyone appreciated and loved Duane so much. There wasn't anything he wouldn't do for Santa Clarita.
"Well, I must say that most everything I do is because of Pauline. She's got me into a lot of different things I totally enjoyed, and just to keep us both going. Of course, now that the kids are grown and out of the house, we have time to enjoy all the different stuff we do." — Duane Harte, SCV Newsmaker of the Week, July 24, 2005
"But as much as everybody loved and appreciated him, just imagine what it was like to be married to this great man," she said. "I'm just so grateful for the 43 years we had. Duane was just God to me. Everything he thought or did was everything to me. I wouldn't even think of having an opinion that wasn't Duane's because he was just so beyond perfect.
"He was so amazing," she said. "I can't ever remember him without a smile on his face. And it came from his heart and his soul. Going on without him is like going on without my own heart and soul. It's just not intact anymore." (Read the complete interview with Pauline at the end of this story.)
The Harte-Beat of Santa Clarita Valley
"As far as I'm concerned, with all the activities he's been involved with in this community, Duane Harte is the heart of Santa Clarita," Kellar agreed in a separate interview. "The list of things he has done over the years in the Santa Clarita Valley is absolutely enormous."
Harte was voted the SCV Man of the Year in 2003. He was the current treasurer of the SCV Man & Woman of the Year Committee, president of the SCV Veterans Memorial Committee, vice-chair of the SCV Parade Committee, and chair of the city of Santa Clarita's Parks, Recreation and Community Services Commission.
Harte also ran for Santa Clarita City Council twice, in 2002 and most recently in April 2014, but did not win. Instead, he continued to serve in myriad ways that would have been more difficult, if not impossible, had he been on the council.
In his 41 years living in the Santa Clarita Valley, Harte has worked in leadership roles with dozens of civic and non-profit organizations in a variety of capacities. Especially after he sold his business — Academy Addressing & Mailing — two years ago, one would be hard-pressed to name an individual as active and as well-respected in the SCV.
Harte's fingerprints are all over organizations such as Friends of Mentryville (founding director/treasurer), the SCV Historical Society (board member and treasurer), the SCV Chamber of Commerce (past chairman), the SCV Committee on Aging, the SCV Senior Center Charitable Foundation (founding president), the Newhall Redevelopment Committee (past chairman), the SCV Historical Veterans Plaza Committee, Friends of the Libraries of the SCV, the Canyon Theatre Guild (board of directors and "Angel" sponsor), Zonta (the "Rent-a-Santa" program), the Elks Lodge and the American Legion.
Harte is survived by his sister Sandra Carson and her husband Michael Carson; his wife Pauline and their daughters Donna and Denise; and Daniel Tamez, future son-in-law now engaged to Denise.
Both Kellar and Santa Clarita City Councilwoman Laurene Weste said members of the council also plan to hold a public memorial soon; details will be forthcoming.
Duane Harte's Early Years
Duane Harte was born July 1, 1947, in Hollywood and grew up in the San Fernando Valley. He and Pauline met on a blind date and married three months later in 1972. The couple moved to the Santa Clarita Valley in 1974, raised two daughters, Donna and Denise, and resided in the SCV communities of Canyon Country, Valencia, Newhall and Saugus over the years.
After earning a bachelor of arts degree in engineering, Harte earned his master's degree in accounting from California State University, Northridge, in June 1991. Around the same time, Harte assumed ownership of his parents' successful Sun Valley-based printing and mail-order fulfillment company.
In 1990, after 23 years of service, Harte retired from the U.S. Navy as a senior petty officer. While he had spent much of his free time volunteering since relocating to the SCV, after he sold his business in 2013, he could begin working full-time to help improve the quality of life for all SCV residents.
Harte's first term on Santa Clarita's Parks, Recreations and Community Services Commission began in 1999, when city co-founder Jo Anne Darcy nominated him to replace Paul Higgins after he resigned. Harte's term was up in 2002, when he ran for City Council but did not win a seat. He also ran unsuccessfully for the council in 2014.
Harte returned to the Parks Commission in 2007 when Councilman TimBen Boydston nominated him to fill the unexpired term of Karin Nelson after she resigned. Harte's interim term ended in 2008; Kellar nominated him for regular terms in 2008 and 2012. Harte's present term was due to end in July 2016.
A 41-year resident of the Santa Clarita Valley, Harte has seen the population grow immensely, as he noted in his official biography posted on the city's website.
"During my first term of office on the commission from 1999 to 2002, I was very pleased to be part of the expansion of our park and recreation facilities, but I was also aware of the deficiencies that still existed," Harte said.
"During my current term of office, I hope to be able to continue working with my fellow commissioners, city staff, and the City Council to erase our park and open space deficiencies and provide the residents of Santa Clarita with the parks, recreation and community services they pay for and so richly deserve," he said.
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Community Leaders Pay Homage to a Fallen Hero
Santa Clarita Valley leaders were unanimous in their shock, grief and appreciation for Harte as a man and as a fellow community leader. The following interviews were conducted Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, Nov. 23 to 25.
Marsha McLean, Santa Clarita Mayor:
"I just can't express enough the sadness at the loss of Duane. I've known him since the '80s, and he's always a man with a kind heart and always wanting to do what's right and good for our community. He is so generous with his time.
"The first time I met him was at Connie Worden-Roberts' house. We were having a meeting regarding something going on in the community, and I mentioned I was doing the newsletter for the Canyon Theatre Guild. At that time, we were just sticking labels and having to do everything by hand. With his business, I asked him if he would be willing to help, and he didn't hesitate. He immediately took over, enabling us, when the newsletter was printed, to address them and send them out — just as a donation to the Canyon Theatre Guild. That's the kind of person he was.
"Currently, he worked like a dog to be the facilitator for the Festival of Trees Boys & Girls Club event. That was not an easy thing. Pauline was saying that he would work 18 hours a day to get that thing up and running.
"He did it for our Veterans Memorial Committee. But it's hard to pinpoint one thing when he did so much. He was always there anytime an organization needed him to be.
"And I feel really bad — my husband was sick recently, and the two of them were so concerned, and Pauline was so concerned for my husband. And then I spoke with her Monday morning, and this happens to her husband. It's just unbelievable. You just never know."
Bob Kellar, Santa Clarita Mayor Pro-Tem:
"Totally unanticipated. Kathy and I talked to him about 10:30 a.m. (Sunday) at the Festival of Trees, and she told Duane, 'You don't look good. You need to go home.' An hour or so later he was sitting in a chair holding his head, and Myrna Condie went over and asked him what was going on, and he said, 'Well, my chest is hurting me a little bit and I'm just worn out.'
"Pauline took him home. So around 6 p.m. the problem kind of went away a little bit but came back, to the extent that his extremities were hurting. A classic sign. So Pauline took him to Henry Mayo. They checked him out but couldn't find anything. Nothing came up on his EKG.
"But the doctor told him, 'Duane, you need to spend the night here. We want to keep an eye on you and see what's going on here.' And according to Pauline, he said, 'No, I'm going home,' and argued about it with the doctor and Pauline for 15 to 20 minutes.' She said, 'The only way we can get him to stay is if we tie him to the bed.' He literally got out of the bed and put on his shoes to get out.
"As I told Pauline when we were talking today (Monday), if Duane were only here, I'd kick his butt. I'd tell him, 'Just do like the doctor tells you. You have something like that going on, don't argue with the doctor. Whatever you know it's a hell of a lot less than that doctor, I'll tell you that.
"Then it hit him at 3 o'clock in the morning and Pauline called and told me the paramedics were there and getting ready to take him to Henry Mayo, so I went there. They were trying to resuscitate him when I got there. They did everything in their power, and they tried everything, too. But he was gone.
"I'm helping the family. They don't have immediate menfolk around, and I told Pauline I would help her all through the process.
"It was my honor to appoint him as a Parks & Recreation Commissioner in 2008 and again in 2012, and he's been a major asset to the commission, and more importantly to the community at large.
"If you stop and think about so many of the activities and programs that have taken place that have been so good in Santa Clarita, it's ironic to find out that Duane Harte was involved in so many of them. It's endless.
"He deserves all the accolades he's going to get. And I know his funeral is going to be huge."
Laurene Weste, Santa Clarita City Councilmember:
"The amazing man we knew as Duane Harte was a superman and I had the pleasure to work with him on the city Parks Commission, the SCV Historical Society and Friends of Mentryville, Man and Woman of the Year, our Fourth of July Parade, the Newhall Redevelopment Committee, the SCV Historical Veterans Plaza Committee and the American Legion, the Elks, as a Boys & Girls Club volunteer and so many more.
"We lost someone very precious who will leave a void across the valley. My heart goes out to his family and friends. I'm very sad. This was the finest of men, an American veteran who served his country and community above and beyond. He's left so many holes and it is heartbreaking to think of the loss to so many. The community will never replace Duane Harte with one or two people, but dozens and dozens.
"I will remember this man of honor who kept his word and worked until the end for the greater good for all he could serve.
"You could always count on Duane. When you think of his story, you just have to think of the movie 'It's a Wonderful Life' (starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, 1946). Duane is George Bailey, that guy who spend his whole life doing for everybody. And everybody just sort of (got used to the idea), 'Yeah, Duane'll do it!' And he did it, and did it well. And he makes the difference between Santa Clarita being Pottersville or Bedford Falls. We're Bedford Falls. And it's a guy like Duane who just consistently says, 'Yes.' I don't know if he liked doing it all. A lot of it is really hard work. And being treasurer is the worst, the most underrated job on any board. Nobody applauds the treasurer. But if somebody doesn't do it and do it well, the organization and the project falls apart.
"If you talked to Duane, he made sure he followed up. And I loved Duane for that. Even if it was really hard, he made life better, joyful, fun. And he always had a smile on his face. So he's my Jimmy Stewart, and he helped make our Bedford Falls great.
"He was quiet and unassuming. He believed that if you did the right stuff and you did a good job, people would notice, but the most important part is they'd be better.
"He wasn't seeking to be president of the United States. He just liked a really nice family town.
"If something was wrong, he wouldn't be out there whining or complaining. He'd get to work on figuring out how to make it better. He would do what he could do to make it work.
"Duane embraced the history of the Santa Clarita Valley, and of course was in the SCV Historical Society and Friends of Mentryville all this time. He was part of the Redevelopment Committee for quite a while, and I believe he worked through the Old Town Newhall Specific Plan. That was a long and expensive planning process that made it possible to actually have an Old Town, so it really needed the detail work to be done. And Duane had historical understanding and an appreciation for the amazing amenity that we have in Old Town Newhall.
"He was very committed to that, and wanted to see us have that special place in California history, a place where people could come and see and touch and enjoy. He was supportive of the historical tours and getting the St. Francis Dam disaster acknowledged as the second-worst catastrophic loss of life in California history (after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire), and certainly one of the worst ever in the United States.
"Duane was very methodical in working through his support for redevelopment. He was one of the representatives of the Historical Society and understood all the interconnections between the parks and the history and the trails and the unique character of our area.
"The word 'redevelopment' doesn't really describe what happens in an historic core where you bring back alive the amazing gift of that area. I mean, things could get lost, and they were, but Duane knew it could come back.
"He worked very diligently to do that. He understood what was needed for Newhall to be re-created, and to be a place where children can come to a children's museum. We will have Heritage Junction Historical Society be sort of a mini-Williamsburg to the Old Town. In the Old Town you'll have the shops, theaters, movie theaters, film festivals … but in the little park area of Hart Park, Heritage Junction, you have the actual, original stuff.
"Duane wanted to see it all come to life. And worked very hard to do that. Once we adopted the plan, it's slowly been turning around. What you see happening today is the result of what he and the committee did to put the plan into action. So it is coming to life and Duane was a big part of making that happen.
"My vision for the redevelopment of downtown Newhall has always been to get an atmosphere where we have people on the streets at 10 (o'clock), 11 at night, walking around doing things, coming out of little restaurants or theaters…I want to see people shopping in…all the small stores that are mom & pop-run. The more people we can get to Newhall…the better off it's going to be." - Duane Harte on Newhall Redevelopment, SCV Newsmaker, July 24, 2005
"I just don't know what we're going to do about our Fourth of July parade. There are about six of us that are the parade. We each have our own section of the parade to do. Leon has his, Duane has his, I have mine … (laughs) and this last parade, the judge's stand was by the new library where there was a great point of view up Main Street. All the TV cameras were all set up there, as the parade turned left onto Lyons Avenue.
"We were there before the parade began, but I had to hurry from the library down to Hart Park to get into the carriage, with the horses. I would have had to walk the six or seven blocks, but Duane said, 'I'll give you a ride.' He loaned me Pauline's helmet and took me down the street on his motorcycle. And everybody's cheering and laughing. I wouldn't have trusted riding on a motorcycle with anybody, but it was Duane, a man I trusted. We were having a great day and the parade was so much fun.
"That's got to be my fondest memory of Duane, when we were all working together. It was piled on all of us, but it happened, and I got to cruise down Main Street with nobody on it except Duane and me on a motorcycle with a big flag waving behind us.
"I've cautioned everybody to just take a deep breath regarding a public memorial. We don't want to do something hastily. We want to honor him properly."
"Duane's name is already on one of the bricks at Veterans Historical Plaza, but I've asked the city for the last five years to post the stories of our veterans and community leaders on our website. So when people click on a veteran's brick on the website, it takes them to a page with that veteran's pictures and stories. I've had so many family members that have said, 'I'll give you that history. I'll give you those pictures. We want that.'
"And so for me, for Duane, the time for that is now."
TimBen Boydston, Canyon Theatre Guild director; Santa Clarita City Councilmember:
"I've known Duane for many years. He served several years on the Board of Directors for the Canyon Theatre Guild and did a magnificent job helping to build support for our organization. He was an angel supporter of the CTG as well for more than a decade.
"The first time I was on the City Council I had the opportunity to appoint one person to a commission because I was only there 16 months the first time, and I had one vacancy and Duane was the one I appointed to serve on the Parks Commission. That was 2007.
"And there are so many examples of his contributions. Every time you turned around, he was there, supporting one nonprofit organization or the other. He was on the Canyon Theatre Guild board for years, and coordinated the Guild's 40th anniversary fundraiser.
"His service starts with him serving in the armed forces. Then he became a small business owner, and when he retired, he made Santa Clarita his life.
"It didn't matter when or when you saw him, no matter the political intrigue, he was always friendly, always smiling. He simply rose above the rest of us."
Dante Acosta, Santa Clarita City Councilman and Gold Star Father:
"It seems like everywhere I turned, there was Duane Harte. Whether it was at the Festival of Trees event the other night, or our Veterans Day or Memorial Day celebrations, which were his signature events, or the events at Heritage Junction with the Historical Society, people in this town have a lot to thank Duane for. I'm sure they will in the days and weeks to come.
"Like many of us, I've known Duane for years and years, but in the past five years or so I've gotten to know him well — since Rudy passed away (Acosta's son, Army Spc. Rudy Acosta, was killed in Afghanistan in 2011). Duane was there and part of that whole process (of the Santa Clarita Valley community publicly honoring the fallen combat medic).
"Personally, Duane and I both liked motorcycles. We got to go on one ride together. A big group of us, including Bill Huddleston — one of the Patriot Guard guys — and the others, delivered a motorcycle as a surprise to another Gold Star father, Chris Unthink. Chris's dad had the motorcycle customized with a photo of Chris's stepson, Jake Suter. Duane was on that ride, and in so many other events in this community.
"Bill called me today, completely heartbroken. He and Duane have been friends for many, many years.
"Duane had a bit of a serious streak — I think that was his military training — but he had a great sense of humor and a lighthearted side. He could crack a good joke with you and enjoy it. He was very close friends with Bob Kellar, someone I've worked with very closely on the City Council, so Duane was always there.
"I could always count on Duane myself, as well. I would say, 'How are things on the Parks Commission?' Because he's been there a lot longer than my commissioner, Kevin Korenthal, who's doing a great job, Duane would always give me that senior leader kind of perspective: 'Hey, I've been there a long time, Kevin's doing the right thing, here's what's going on.' And I'm like, 'Don't get the wrong impression, I'm not double-checking on Kevin,' and we'd have a lively conversation. I could always rely on the long-term vision Duane brought to the community because he's been involved here for so many years.
"We ran for the same seat on the City Council in 2014, but I never considered him a rival. I looked at Duane as another person who was qualified to sit on the council. We both put a lot of time and effort into it, and I know he was disappointed when he wasn't elected this last go-around.
"But I think he leads so much more in so many other areas by not being on the council. I say that with so much respect and regard for him, because being on the council is very time-consuming. Duane was able to give back to the community in ways you just can't do if you're on the council. In his own way, he's given as much, if not more, than frankly just about any council member.
"I literally did a double-take today. I saw a guy that resembled him in a store. For a second I expected him to be Duane, but realized he's gone. He's one of those people you'd never expect wouldn't be here. Of course, he was a relatively young man, so it's a greater shock, especially seeing him just 30 hours prior.
"I can't say he and I were particularly close socially, but whenever we saw each other, it was like two old friends who'd just sit there and have a chat.
"Saturday night at Festival of Trees, we spent about 30-40 minutes chatting while our wives were off looking at the trees. Duane came over and said, 'Uh, I'm going to get away from the girls' (laughs). 'I'm going to talk to Dante about motorcycles.'
"We talked about what's going in politics and in the world. Then, of course, it always seems to come back to cars and motorcycles, a passion we shared.
"Duane told me he'd been there all day, since early in the morning, and he actually looked pretty tired. He said, 'Yeah, I've been here all day. I'm beat.'
"A few months back he traded in his 2009 BMW 635 coupe for a new one, and I was like, 'Gee, I would've bought your car from you. You sold it too cheap.' It had, like, 50,000 miles. 'Really?' I said. 'You traded it in for almost nothing.' I used to rip him about that.
"Maybe one or two months ago I looked at him and said, 'You know, I'm still mad at you.' He goes, 'What'd I do?' I said, 'You didn't sell me your car.' But then we'd talk about motorcycles and whatever.
"Duane is already greatly missed. Someone posted on Facebook (Monday) morning that 'he's one of those guys you expected to see riding his Harley in his 80s.' That's so true. And now, he won't be.
"But you know what? I think a ride in Duane's honor is a wonderful idea, maybe raise a little money for one of his charities."
Ken Striplin, Santa Clarita City Manager:
"Santa Clarita lost a favorite son this week with the death of Duane Harte. Duane was the consummate gentlemen with the heart of a servant. He worked hard on behalf of the community and country he so loved and he will be greatly missed. Our city family is mourning the loss of this great man. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this very difficult time."
"Shock, dismay, and a sense of profound loss, for me personally but also for the department, the city and the community, really, was how we reacted.
"Duane was an amazing sounding board and really adept at understanding what the community at large needed. His ability to calmly synthesize that community voice into something that actually became a real project was one of his real legacies, I think.
"He got both sides of the coin. He advocated for the things that he got, but he was always able to see both sides of the story or the project and really help people get to consensus.
"To be honest, it's too early for me to think about how we're going to fill his shoes. It's still kind of raw, and I haven't even thought about that.
"He spent so much time with the staff and the department and in our parks. A lot of the employees and staff are deeply missing him, I think, and it's not just about one person. I think the community at large and the world of Parks and Recreation and Community Services really lost someone who was a great champion for us, and I think that'll be hard to deal with.
"It was pretty easy for him and me to kind of stand to the side and watch things as they unfolded. I think he got a lot of satisfaction out of the smiles the things he participated in brought to people's faces — everyone from the veterans to the kids. When we opened a new park or a program was successful or an event went well, I think he took great pride in that.
"And I think if I'd remember anything, it's that — he enjoyed sitting back and watching people enjoying the fruits of Parks, Recreation and Community Services. I think he really embodied our motto, that parks make life better. That's what he was all about. That's why he was in it.
"The things nearest and dearest to him? I'd say the SCV Historical Society, and he put a lot of energy into the Pioneer Oil Refinery plan. He and Pauline moved to the River Village area a couple of years ago and really took pride in that park.
"But probably the park he paid closest attention to over time was Veterans Historical Plaza in Newhall. He was there from the beginning. He helped in the process, the consensus plan that was eventually what was built, and he's been a steward and a leader at Veterans Historical Plaza ever since. He was the master of ceremonies on Veterans Day on Nov. 11. Veterans Historical Plaza was never far from his lips.
"It's a tough time for him and his family right now. This is unfortunately the time of year when I also have some personal loss in my family that's made it a pretty s****y week."
Leon Worden, 2015 SCV Man of the Year:
"I think back to the words of Jo Anne Darcy when she retired from the City Council: 'It's a love.' Duane had a rare, unbridled love for this community that he demonstrated through literally decades of volunteer work. Duane never just filled a chair on a committee. He was both the motive force and the best worker bee. It's sort of axiomatic in this town that if something needs doing, you ask Duane, because you know it will be done on time and under budget.
"I was lucky to work with him at the Historical Society, the Redevelopment Committee, the Fourth of July Parade and a few other things. He was the treasurer of so many organizations that he leaves a gaping hole in our community infrastructure.
"Frankly, I can't imagine how we're going to pick up the pieces."
Linda Storli, SCV Fourth of July Parade Chair:
"What was Duane's role in putting on the parade? Everything.
"Duane ran the back end of the parade. He got the cars for the dignitaries and celebrities, wrangled the Miss SCVs, the pageant ladies. He took care of moving things around at Hart Part before the parade and took care of the American Legion riders, which was also a huge addition to our parade. They helped with crowd control and keeping citizens off the street, and that was a big part of what he did.
"You just gave him a job and he did it. Monday, after the sobs and the grieving, I was thinking, 'There's no one who can take his place.' There just isn't. I can't think of two people who can do the job. So, I'm going to have to replace him with maybe three people, if I can find three people half as competent as he was. He had like 10 jobs in the parade. I may need 10 different people to replace him.
"And he did it without need of recognition. Many things he did were up front and beautiful, like the Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies. But he also did a thousand things behind the scenes, and never needed to have his name added to something or get credit for what he did. He just did it.
"I just remember sitting at the Memorial Day service and then at the Veterans Plaza the other day. We'd just talk. And that's what everybody's saying: 'We just saw him, and he looked so great.' What a shock.
"The last meeting we had with the Fourth of July Committee, we were considering who would be a good grand marshal for the next year, and Duane's name was on the top of the list.
"I believe Duane knew everybody cared for him. I don't think he thought differently. But it's kind of sad that, for everyone who passes away, we put names on things and have memorial rides and tributes. But we don't often do these things before the people have passed.
"I was grateful were able to put together that memorial celebration at the Historical Center for Connie Worden-Roberts before she was gone. That was so cool because she got to watch it. I don't think she ever thought that she wasn't appreciated, and I know Duane knew he was appreciated.
"I think a memorial ride would be wonderful. I think dedicating the 2016 parade in his name is absolute.
"It was like Jim Stone, who did all our (audio) electronics for the parades for years. Once he stopped, it seriously took an army to fill his place. He passed away a couple of years ago, but he was the grand marshal the year before he died. For him, we timed it pretty well. So, I guess when they want to make me grand marshal, I'll know my days are numbered."
Alan Pollack, SCV Historical Society President:
"Losing Duane is like taking a direct hit to the infrastructure of our community. He was involved in so many things and so important to so many organizations that the loss is going to reverberate through the community, and it's going to take us a while to recover from losing such a great man.
"It's a terrible hit to the Historical Society. He's been there longer than me, at least 15 years, maybe longer. He's been a longtime member of our board, and our treasurer. I've gotten so much support from him just personally in my role as president of the board — it's just immeasurable. What a great man he was.
"He's a true hero to me, our community and our country. It's a horrible loss for his family, for the (Historical) Society and for the community.
"His commitment to his community is unprecedented from what I've seen with people I've dealt with. He's the kind of guy who gets along with everybody, that everybody love. In organizations, politics and everything else we do, everybody has different opinions. There are always 100 ways to skin a cat and everybody wants to skin the cat a different way. But Duane's the guy who can build consensus with anybody. That is such a rare trait for a person to have in this society, at least from what I've seen. To me, I think that stands out more than anything else with Duane.
"He was one of the people very involved with preserving Mentryville. That was certainly one of his major historical projects. I know that meant a lot to him.
"At the Historical Society board meeting Monday night, we struggled with whether it was appropriate for us to even meet, out of respect to Duane. We decided to meet — we needed to discuss the hole he left in our organization. What steps are we going to take from here? And also to just reminiscence and honor him. We had a short meeting and we adjourned it in his honor. That's how it went."
Bill Reynolds, SCV Veterans Committee Vice President and Author
"When my friend Bob Kellar told me we lost our friend Duane, I almost lost it. Such stunning news was difficult to comprehend. Duane was a picture of health, energy, happiness and contentment, always looking so fit and handsome in his Navy uniform at all of our local veteran events.
"For me, Duane was the 'Veterans' Veteran.' Seeing him appear as master of ceremonies or keynote speaker on Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies made all of us veterans so proud. He was so professional and had a great sense of humor. He was just fun to be with, and his wonderful wife Pauline complemented him perfectly.
"We had a Memorial Day committee meeting set for Wednesday, Nov. 25; being second in charge of our committee it fell to me to notify our members of this tragic news and to cancel our meeting. Those phone calls were tough to make. Everyone cried and was in disbelief.
"Our committee members are continuing to communicate with each other. We have tremendous camaraderie; we're a tight-knit family and had an outstanding leader in Duane. He always kept us on point to constantly strive to improve our Memorial Day ceremonies year after year, and I'd like to think we achieved his mission. "His passing leaves a giant hole in Santa Clarita's veterans community. The Memorial Committee members have already resolved to pull together to carry on Duane's outstanding legacy, and we will create an excellent ceremony in his honor next Memorial Day."
R.J. Kelly, VFW Post Commander:
"Duane had a second childhood, and his second childhood was his veterans, taking care of veterans and reaching out to veterans and supporting veterans.
"Once he sold his business and semi-retired, that's where he put his heart — supporting anything and everything to do with veterans. That's why I refer to it as a second childhood. Back in the beginning it was his family and business, and now it's his family and the veterans. And he gave it his all.
"(He was) a big organizer for the Veterans Memorial Day program. This year he did the Veterans Day event. He's on that committee and probably been hosting that for at least 10 years. I was on it for quite a while, but he took everything over. And of course he was a strong advocate for the Elks and the American Legion.
"Duane did get roasted by the Elks. I'm not sure I was there. The roasts used to get pretty rowdy, so I'm sure he had a good time.
"Duane was all Navy and I'm all Marine, so we shared a traditional rivalry. Of course, the Marines were part of the Navy. The stories went from how the Navy had to give us Marines a ride to wherever we had to fight, to us telling them we were just on the ship to protect the sailors. We just always loved banter back and forth about who's on top today and who was going to be on top tomorrow.
"I think the biggest thing, though, is we lost a man with a big heart."
Wayne Crawford, SCV Man & Woman of the Year Committee President:
"Duane was not only the SCV Man of the Year in 2003, but also a member of the governing board for the last four years, I believe. He's our treasurer this year. I've been the treasurer the last few years. He took over this year as I became president of that board. And then Duane's worked with us on a lot of other things.
"The last several weeks he's been really involved with the annual Festival of Trees to benefit the SCV Boys & Girls Club, coordinating and helping set up. Of course he was there Saturday for the event and he was there until the end on Sunday, the close-out.
"He's been a great community help for so many different people. He's one of those guys everybody liked. Since he sold his business a couple of years ago, he decided his next phase was public service. Before, he was involved in a lot of things, but now he just wanted to spend most of his free time in public service in one way or another.
"He was really big on veterans. He was in the Navy for 20-something years. He was kind of a lifer, then came out of it and had another career running his mail order fulfillment business.
"We went on a couple of rides together — the one that started on Creekside and from Creekside up to Lake Elizabeth and back. He rode in that with Pauline at least twice.
"Saturday night I was teasing him about his bright red shirt and Christmas tie and I said, 'Well, you're really playing the part. You're looking good — you lost some weight.' 'Yeah, I did,' he said. Last conversation we had.
"He's really going to be missed. He was involved in a lot of things and had a lot of close friends. I think it's going to be tough on Pauline — they were close, did everything together.
"He liked being on the Parks Commission and all the things he was involved with. A lot of people may not realize he was involved in so much. He was pretty low-key, but he was always there.
"The Fourth of July Parade — that's going to leave a big hole, because he was the guy who brought all the stuff together. He was really familiar with all the details and what it takes to put that event on.
"We'd been working very closely together the last two months on the Boys & Girls Club (benefit), besides the SCV Man & Woman of the Year. I teased him because he missed the last board meeting because he had it on his calendar for the wrong day.
"I said, 'Where were you this morning? 'What do you mean?' 'You were supposed to be at Salt Creek at noon,' I said. 'Oh, God. Was that today?' (laughs) And Duane never missed a meeting. We just laughed about it.
"When I heard the news Monday morning, I couldn't believe it. I got an email from Kathy (Kellar) because Bob was over at the hospital with Pauline. I didn't handle it real well. And to me, he was a young guy.
"It's just proved what we were talking about the other day, you never know when it's your time, and it's very important to live each day like it might be your last. A lot of people today are saying the same thing.
"Among the first people you would need to call if you wanted to be involved in Santa Clarita were Duane and Pauline. In fact, they both attended my wedding many years ago, and we lived in Happy Valley together. It's hard to articulate the void that is going to be left with his passing. I think he really exemplifies what makes Santa Clarita great. He didn't do any of this for personal gain. His involvement was out of his own belief in and passion for the community.
"I always respected his commitment to veterans and the Veterans Memorial Wall. Every year he would lead the reading of the names of Santa Clarita veterans who were on that wall, and when he read the names of my grandfather and more recently my father, he did it with the respect he truly had for the veterans.
"Like everyone, we're still in disbelief that he's gone."
Carl Goldman and Jeri Seratti-Goldman, owners, KHTS-AM 1220 radio:
"Duane was one of those guys who was always behind the scenes, either pulling up his sleeves and lending a hand, or sharing his wisdom to guide a nonprofit."
"He was passionate about making Santa Clarita the wonderful community it has become and keeping it that way. We know his significant incredible efforts over the years will continue to impact all of us. Our hearts go out to Pauline and family and to our entire valley. We lost one of our incredible leaders today."
Jim Lentini, SCV Boys & Girls Club CPO, Rotarian and Veterans Advocate:
"This is such a shock because Duane was pretty healthy. We worked together on veterans programs and the SCV Habitat for Heroes project. Plus we're both motorcycle riders. I've known him for many years on a business basis. He used to do a lot of printing for us, until he retired and sold his company off.
"When he's in uniform on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, he looks great. On Veteran's Day this year I told him I just can't believe he still fits into that thing.
"And of course after events like those we'd be at the Elks Lodge with him and Pauline, even on the Fourth of July.
"Duane was always there. It was always wonderful interacting with him. We'd always depend him because he gets it done."
Rick Winsman, former SCV Chamber of Commerce Chair:
"Monday morning was just a bit less bright. The sun did not come up for one of our special friends today. Pauline lost her husband and soul mate, Denise and Donna lost their father and the best man they ever knew, the community lost one of its most unselfish contributors and the country lost a true patriot. And I lost my best friend.
"His loss will not become totally evident as his contributions and continued involvement are realized as the shock wears off. And while the community to which Duane dedicated himself over the past many years will undoubtedly find a fitting and proper way to memorialize him, he will always occupy a place in the hearts of those who loved him and will never be forgotten.
"May you ride your bike on smooth roads and with following winds, Duane. I'll miss you, my friend.
"Duane and I were good friends for almost 30 years, and it's a time in my life that I'll never forget. We just participated in virtually everything in the almost-20 years I was living in the Santa Clarita Valley. His death is such a sudden thing to happen. I'm in shock over it.
"Duane succeeded me — I was chairman of the board of the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber, and then not the immediate next year but the year after that, Duane followed in my footsteps. I think where he and I had the most fun was working on Mentryville. That was one of (Duane's) many passions — the history of the Santa Clarita Valley, and of course Mentryville being the first oil town west of Pennsylvania, commercially. It was natural for him.
"I can remember years of involvement, like when we had the big brush fires in Pico Canyon. We're out there loading furniture out of the Big House onto a trailer and having it stored. It's these types of things that Duane never got the credit for, but we always he knew he was responsible for. That's the type of guy he was. He wasn't concerned with who (did what) — he was concerned with just getting the job done.
"Leon Worden has it right when he referred to Duane and me as 'Frick and Frack.' That sums it up pretty well. We (Rick and wife Dee) were running partners with him and Pauline for many years. We were in a really active group of couples who went out and did things just about every weekend. We went out to both the Canyon Theatre Guild and the REP, and we were part of a group that went every Friday to the Elks club to have dinner and get away from the political talk. Kellar was part of that too, by the way, so don't let him off the hook.
"I read the piece the city of Santa Clarita put out. It listed a lot of Duane's involvements, and quite frankly, there were a lot of things Duane did that almost single-handedly to keep some of these groups afloat. Like Friends of the Library. I know a lot of their book sales generated revenue to conduct activities — he was responsible for several of those pretty much on his own.
"The Fourth of July parades, man, you couldn't touch the VIP in the convertible without going through Duane. That was just his shtick.
"The thing is that he had fun doing it. He was just full of fun. It never seemed to be a burden whenever he was doing things, and I think that's endemic of what we're doing to be losing in our community.
"When I took the job up in Washington, on the chamber (of commerce) up here, Leon (Worden) had us on "SCV Newsmakers" on the same show. It was a recap of what we had done together and what Duane had done and what I had done, and what my vision was and planned to accomplish by going up north and leaving the good folks of Santa Clarita in the lurch.
"Quite frankly I think Duane would've made an excellent member of City Council. The times when we tried to get him elected just didn't seem to work out. He always fell a little bit short on that end of the deal. But maybe overall that was a good thing, because it certainly allowed him to focus on all the other organizations and things he was involved with.
"I ran for state senate up here in Washington in 2012, and like Duane, I wasn't successful, either. But I certainly was able to channel some of my resources into other areas after I retired from the chamber up there. I think, in the long run, I was able to accomplish more than if I had been elected, if you look at it in hindsight. Hindsight is always 20/20.
"Duane never allowed himself to be (dragged) down into the muck of these political fights that we seem to have gotten into in Santa Clarita for the 20 years I was there, and certainly in keeping in touch with both Duane and Kellar and others in the community over the past 10 years, it hasn't subsided a bit.
"Santa Clarita is going through transition in leadership of who I consider to be a group of people who contributed to the growth and development success of the Santa Clarita Valley than anyone. More than a year ago we lost the first one, Connie Worden-Roberts. I worked with her on more things than you could shake a stick at. I know she slowed down in later years, but by golly, she was still there with a sharp eye, a quick wit and a new idea on how to approach things.
"Duane was kind of the same way. When he retired and sold his business, he didn't slow down. He stepped up if he saw an opportunity to engage in a few more nonpartisan nonprofit activities.
"The community is going to miss him. He knew so many people and was able to be at ease with them and talk about things that were important to them, and not just, 'Did you hear what I did? Look, the latest thing that I went to. I was doing this...' He always focused on the individual and made them feel important, I think. That was one of the key traits he carried through his many years of involvement.
"One of the characteristics of a true leader — he can lead without the people he's leading feel like they're being led. They want to go with him voluntarily. There's an old saying: 'If you think you're a leader, look behind you every once in a while to make sure there's somebody following you.'
"Duane always had people following him. Because everyone loved him so much, he had the ability to tell folks to go to hell and have them look forward to the trip."
Photos: Courtesy Harte Family; SCV Historical Society; Stephen K. Peeples. Special thanks to Councilman Bob Kellar, Leon Worden, Kaylee Cox, Gail Morgan and Paige Hagen.
PAULINE HARTE 11-25-2015
"It's true he was the heart of the Santa Clarita Valley and Santa Clarita. I'm just so appreciative of the fact that this whole community appreciated Duane so much and loved him so much. There wasn't anything he wouldn't do for Santa Clarita. But as much as everybody loved and appreciated him, just imagine what it was like to be married to this great man. He was so amazing.
"I can't ever remember him without a smile on his face. And it came from his heart and his soul. I'm just so grateful for the 43 years I had with this man. He was just God to me. (tearful) Everything he thought or did, it was everything to me. I wouldn't even think of having an opinion that wasn't Duane's because he was just so beyond perfect.
"Going on without him is like going on without my own heart and soul. It's just not intact anymore.
"But he loved Santa Clarita. He loved the Historical Society so much. There wasn't anything he wouldn't do for the Historical Society. (laughing and choking up) Duane and history. I'm into ancient history, Duane was current local history. We just kind of melded together on that.
"He loved Mentryville. He never got tired of Mentryville. That what was so amazing. Duane never got tired of anything he did, year after year after year. He had the same enthusiasm as he had at the beginning
"He loved the Fourth of July parade. He'd stand out there on the street with his headphones and walkie-talkie getting all those cars into place. And he always had the biggest smile on his face when he was doing it, no matter how tired he got.
"It's true he was the heart of the Santa Clarita Valley and Santa Clarita. There wasn't anything he didn't have his heart into and his time into. Even if he wasn't in charge of something, he was involved. He did the silent auction at the Boys & Girls Club benefit event every year.
"I can't think of anything he wasn't a part of in some way.
Festival of Trees, Nov. 22
"He had been spending 12-16 hours a day since Monday (16) working on Festival of the Trees at the Sports Complex. Saturday, the day of the gala event, he left home at 8:30 in the morning and never came home. I had to take his clothes over there. He took a shower at the gym.
"He had a great time at the event that night. And it's so nice that he saw all those people. So many people have said on Facebook, 'Oh, I just saw Duane at Festival of the Trees.' That was kind of neat. They all got to say hello to him on the last day of his life.
"Sunday he went in and I brought him lunch and I wanted him to come home because he looked so tired. But he wouldn't come home. And we met Kathy and Bob Kellar there, and after talking together a bit, Kathy told him she thought he looked exhausted. But Duane wouldn't come home.
"And at 6 o'clock that night he came home, and I didn't expect him until midnight, because it was cleanup after the festival. And he said, 'I just don't feel good. Myrna (Condie) sent me home.
"And I talked to Myrna, and she said he was sitting there with his head in his hands in a chair, and Myrna said, 'That's it, Duane, you cannot work anymore — I want you to go home,' and offered to drive him home. Everybody wanted to drive him home, but he didn't want that. We only lived five minutes away. He never wanted help from people. So he drove home and I looked at him and he said he didn't feel good. I didn't like the way he looked.
"I made him go to Henry Mayo. I'm stunned that I got him there, absolutely stunned, because taking him anywhere to take care of himself is just an uphill battle. By the time we were there he was having pains in his chest. They got him all hooked up, did blood tests, and nothing showed anything wrong.
They gave him some morphine and he started feeling better, and then he said he wanted to go home, he was fine. And the doctor spent 10 minutes trying to talk him out of it. I spent another 10 minutes trying to talk him out of it. And he started taking the leads (sensors) off to the machines. He got his tennis shoes on, and I said, 'You can't do this.' He said (emphatically), 'I feel fine. Nothing showed up on the EKG or the blood test. I was just overworked.'
"So we went home. At 10 o'clock we went to bed, and he was fine by all appearances. And then about 3 o'clock I heard him crying out in his sleep like he was having a bad dream, making strange noises. I tried to wake him up, but couldn't wake him up. I went to the other side of the bed, and he was unconscious. I called 911 and they were here in eight minutes. I could not believe it. He never regained consciousness.
"They worked on him here for about 30 minutes and his heart was stopped. It was gone. They took him to Henry Mayo. They kept working on him in the ambulance. At Henry Mayo they worked on him another 20 minutes. They were just do determined to get Duane back. (tearful). But that was it. He was gone.
"When we were leaving the house, this thought just hit my head — call Bob Kellar. I think that was Duane, I really do, because I don't know where that thought came from. (tearful) And Bob met me at the hospital and he just took over. He's been there the whole time. I don't know what I would have done without him.
"One of the paramedics was George Thomas's son, George from Route 66 (Bar & Grill on Soledad in Canyon Country). He knew Duane. The poor guy was like a deer caught in the headlights. He just looked at me like, 'My God, what happened?'
"It's just so hard to believe. (tearful) Duane was so healthy. He had been to a doctor for a physical, and the doctor had told him, 'If I looked at your vitals and didn't know where they were from, I would think they were the vitals of a 25-year-old man.' And I think that's what prevented Duane from staying at Henry Mayo. 'There couldn't possibly be anything wrong,' he said. 'The doctor told me I was as healthy as a 25-year-old man.' And he was.
"He was always out walking the neighborhood. He became the president of the River Village homeowners association. Honestly, Duane was the heart of the River Village community. It was like a hub with Duane in the middle. He would walk this entire community, be gone for two hours, three times a week. Everyone knew him. And he loved talking with the people.
"This was Duane's dream. Duane worked his ass off all his life to get here, and he couldn't even spend more than two years enjoying it. (tearful) That's what kills me. The River Village community was his little paradise. How many homeowners association presidents are actually loved by the community? I don't know of any. But they all loved Duane. That almost says it all about Duane Harte. Who could not love him?
"His parents bought Academy (Addressing and Mailing) in 1972, and that was when Duane was in the Navy. He already had a BA in engineering from California State University, Northridge, and decided to go back (to CSUN) and get his master's in accounting in June 1981.
"He worked on and off with his parents, and eventually, a couple of decades ago, because they were getting older, he just took over the business and ended up owning it, which is why he never became an accountant. He just built it up and built it up then sold the business two years ago so he could be here, now, in River Village.
"Duane and I were a blind date, and we were married three months later. (laughs) I was working at the Broadway. I was in window display, store display. A friend there was actually going to school with Duane, and he asked her if she knew anyone he could hook up with. He's had lousy luck with dates. God only knows why I said yes, because I was never very enthusiastic about (dating).
"He met me at the Broadway, took me to lunch at the Red Barn on Van Nuys Boulevard, which isn't there anymore, and three months later we were married. I knew from that first lunch that this was the most perfect man in the world.
"That weekend he was going to a wedding with his best friend who was like a brother to him, and Duane came to this wedding and said, 'I just met the woman I'm gonna marry.' (tearful) It's like we both had the same thought. We both knew this was who we wanted to spend the rest of our lives with.
"It's really nice people have said such nice things about me. I always just felt I was here for Duane. He was my whole life. That was it. My whole life began and ended with Duane. There was nothing else for me. I just loved supporting him in everything he wanted to do. American Legion, Patriot Guard — he was planning their next trip to the convention in Oregon in June. Every year they go for a week. It made me feel so happy to see him so happy doing his stuff. I just see him smiling, all the time.
"Duane and I would go on one-day rides, three-day rides and even just lunch rides. But he bought a new bike this year, a Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic Limited, and we just loved it.
"I am not selling his bike. This bike stays here with me. I'm going to put a little chair out here, have my coffee next to the ride. It's not gonna leave here, that's for sure. And the guys from the American Legion said they'd come out and take it out for a spin once a week, and I have a friend who said he'd take me out for a spin. We have our motorcycle club and they would all come over here and take me for a ride.
"It wouldn't be the same without Duane, though. I don't even care if I don't ride any more, but I'm not selling his bike. It's Duane. He's sitting on this bike.
"It's so different without Duane. I go into the backyard. Oh, my God, you should have seen him as he designed this whole house, front, back. When the new house was going up, we were still living at the old house (in Happy Valley). When we moved in I had to go back to the old house with the dogs because they'd go out their doggie door to the backyard but it would be mud because the lawn wasn't in yet.
"He'd spend all day at the new house designing things, and I'd drive over and bring him lunch and we'd walk around and see what Duane had done (laughs). He'd show me his ideas. He just enjoyed it so much. Honestly, most people who (build a house) argue constantly over stuff, but we had so much fun, there was not a single argument. Everything Duane did was perfect. And now I go out into that backyard that he designed it's like an empty shell without him. It's not like I'm not used to Duane being gone (on business trips), but this is different now. But I would never sell this house. This was Duane's paradise. This house brought out everything in Duane. He was just so ecstatic to be in this house.
"We moved out of a really big house. We downsized to this. Happy Valley was 5,200 square feet with seven bedrooms, six and a half baths and this huge pool. It was a good place to raise the kids, but even big for that. I'm so thankful we are not in that house right now. I would have been so overwhelmed, I wouldn't have known where to start.
"I'm glad we're where we are now. This was where Duane wanted to be.
"And I just always rode along in his wake, there was just a wake of love and enthusiasm and spark. It was so incredible to be married to him. Everybody got bits and pieces of him but I had the whole thing. How lucky was that?
"And every day was a gift. Like the last day of his life, I told him I loved him, and I'm so glad I did that. I don't have to regret that I didn't. And he told me he loved me. I think that's such a gift. Because I know so many people who say I wish I'd told my husband I loved him, I wish I'd told my wife I loved her on that last day. And we did that."