Inyo County has lost not only its Citizen of the Year, but also a beloved community leader, philanthropist and friend to virtually anyone in need.
Those are the words being used to describe Lone Pine’s “Rattlesnake” Dave Haas, who died early Tuesday morning with friends and family by his side. He was 78.
Haas will be remembered for his many philanthropic endeavors, not the least of which is the refurbishing of “The Building” to serve as a community center in Lone Pine, or his many hours at the grill or skillet as he cooked up fundraiser breakfasts and dinners.
“There is a lot I would like to say about Dave,” said Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce Director Kathleen New. “He did a lot for Lone Pine. He was very generous. He worked diligently for the community. He worked a great deal with the Chamber, and the community as a whole. He left a beautiful building for the community. He took care of a lot of people in ways that we will never know.”
Haas adopted the town of Lone Pine in the early 2000s when he moved from his beloved community of Murrieta (where he served as one of the first City Council members and worked to incorporate the city) to be closer to longtime friends Jaque and Art Hickman after the death of his wife.
According to Jaque Hickman, Haas was a frequent visitor to the area while he lived in Murrieta and ultimately decided to retire and settle down in Lone Pine.
A private contractor by trade, Haas always seemed to have a project he was working on, according to friends and family. “He’s always been that way,” son “Skip” Dave Haas, Jr. said. “He raised a lot of money and donated a lot of money.”
Skip went on to say that his father’s dedication to his community started way back, when he was working to have Murrieta incorporated as a city. “If it wasn’t for him and JoAnne Clark, I don’t think that would have ever gotten done,” he said. “There’s a lot of things he got done. Even when his arthritis was killing him, he was still cooking steaks for fundraisers.”
Haas was so dedicated, in fact, that despite health issues, he attended a Board of Supervisors meeting last month to provide input in favor of the proposal to change the name of the Lone Pine Airport to Lone Pine-Death Valley Airport, in an effort to attract aviators to the area by advertising it as a gateway to the national park.
“He was pretty committed,” Skip said.
He said his father was family-oriented, enjoyed golfing, was “somewhat religious” with strong Christian views (though he didn’t subscribe to one branch of Christianity) and was a big Ronald Reagan fan (he had a signed ink drawing of the 40th president, given to him by one of Reagan’s speech writers, a personal friend.)
Haas’ grandson, Brandon, who will be managing “The Building,” said that Haas was a family man at heart. “He was always a good guy to talk to, and he always had a straight answer for you. His attitude was ‘Let’s get it done and move on’ and ‘If you see something broke, let’s fix it.’ I think he really motivated the community.”
Fifth District Inyo County Supervisor Matt Kingsley said Haas’ death “is a personal loss, but also a loss for our town too. He had a commitment to make things better and he used his time and his money to improve the community. Small communities are made up of a lot of characters, and Dave was a colorful character.”
While Haas has been celebrated throughout Inyo County for the dedication he showed his community – he was selected as 2012’s Inyo County Citizen of the Year – he has also been described as a curmudgeon with a heart of gold, a title he said was accurate and, to him, amusing.
When he was selected as Citizen of the Year, New said Haas was the kind of man who will give someone the shirt off his back if they need it, but not without a little good-natured “cussing and screaming” along the way.
“He’s the kindest, most generous person,” his longtime companion and partner Lynne Bunn said. “He didn’t always show that in public, but that’s who he was.”
Anyone who knew Haas would have to agree. “He was ornery as all get-out, but that was part of his charm,” Hickman said. “Dave was just a guy that never really liked to let on how caring and generous he really was.”
When presented with his Citizen of the Year plaque during a special ceremony in June, Haas showed both his trademark humility and humor, leaving the audience in stitches rather than indulging in any long speeches or sentimentality.
“To those who voted for me (for this honor), I thank you,” he said, “and to those who didn’t vote for me, I’ll pray for you.” (For what it’s worth, he was chosen by an anonymous, independent panel of residents from all over the county. The vote was unanimous.)
Hickman said that for as long as she has known Haas, he was doing things for others. When his late wife Shirley taught at Golden West College in Huntington Beach, Haas would get an idea and decide to cook breakfast for her students. “He still did that. He would decide he wanted to have everyone over for Sunday breakfast, and he’d get up and cook,” Hickman said. “He still remembered all his friends from high school and always tried to attend the reunions. He was a pretty caring guy, a great guy. I know Lone Pine is going to miss him.”
And Haas’ commitment to Lone Pine, and his reputation as a straight-talking community advocate stretched beyond his community of Lone Pine. Bishop resident and past Citizen of the Year Chuck Kilpatrick said he believes Hass was the right choice for the 2012 Citizen of the Year. “I admired him for the volume of work that he did for his community. He always had Lone Pine at heart and mind,” Kilpatrick said.
For Haas, spreading money around his community to benefit his friends and neighbors is all in a day’s work. “I’ve had people ask me why I spend so much money,” he said when he was selected as Citizen of the Year. “And all I say is that I believe that anyone who dies with a bank full of money dies a failure.”
That sentiment, former Healthy Communities of Southern Inyo Director Charles James said, “explains why he’s so generous. I got to know him fairly well, and we disagreed on a lot of things, but I really liked the guy. My heart broke a little bit when I heard the reality that he was gone.”
Many friends and family members said that Haas’ legacy in Inyo County will be the community center, a dilapidated building that he purchased and refurbished to serve as a community center, reception hall or venue for just about any kind of event.
“The most lasting legacy will be the building, which represents not an empty promise from a politician, but a fulfilled promise from a citizen,” James said. “It’s a physical expression of who he is and what he was about. That building was an opportunity for him to realize a dream he had to give Lone Pine a community center.”
James added that, as a tribute to all the good Haas did in the community, and his generous nature and giving spirit, the community of Lone Pine may want to consider renaming “The Building” to the “Haas-pitality Center.”
While The Building is one legacy that will live on, others in Lone Pine will remember Haas for his dedication to beautification, as he was fond of planting flowers and shrubs in public areas for everyone’s enjoyment. New added that he was also a fan of the arts, often purchasing artwork from the Chamber’s art gallery, and offering prize money for the Chamber’s popular photo contest.
“He always put his money where his mouth was. If there was a cause in the communities he lived in, and not just Lone Pine, he figured out a way to raise money for it,” Hickman said.