Former Huntington Beach Mayor Ralph Bauer dies at 92

(File Photo)
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Former Huntington Beach Mayor Ralph Bauer, who served on the City Council for 10 years and spent nearly half a century deeply involved with Surf City causes and organizations, has died at the age of 92.

Bauer died Tuesday, his son, Eric, said. He was vaccinated against COVID-19 twice and double boosted, but he caught the coronavirus last month and was sent to the hospital.

“He wound up contracting pneumonia, and it damaged his lungs to the point that he couldn’t recover,” Eric Bauer said.

Ralph Bauer, who served as mayor in 1997, had recently celebrated his 70th wedding anniversary with his wife, Charlene. They have been mainstays in Huntington Beach for decades.

“He was one of the true leaders of this community,” said Bauer’s friend and fellow former Huntington Beach Mayor Shirley Dettloff, who served on City Council with him in the 1990s. “First of all, he was a very smart man and he worked so well with the council. He and I were of differing political parties, and that made no difference. Ralph wanted to see what was best for the city, and that’s how we always worked together. He would listen to both sides of any issue and come up with he felt would be beneficial to the community.”

Born in Los Angeles to immigrant parents, Bauer earned a bachelor’s degree and a Ph.D in chemistry from UCLA. His freshman year at UCLA in 1948, he played basketball under legendary coach John Wooden, and he has said he took Wooden’s “Pyramid of Success” with him into his adult life.

He also served for the U.S. Navy in the Korean War aboard minesweepers.

Ralph Bauer and his wife Charlene, pictured in 2011, recently celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

A chemist by trade, Bauer served on the boards of both the Ocean View and Huntington Beach Union high school districts during the 1960s and ’70s, including stints as president. He was invited back to a OVSD board meeting in May to receive a lifetime achievement award.

OVSD Board President Gina Clayton-Tarvin said Bauer’s support was instrumental in the 2016 passage of the Measure R school bond, which has led to the modernization of several district schools.

“While other folks were out there screaming about ‘no taxes,’ Ralph was like, ‘Look, this is not about that,’” Clayton-Tarvin said. “He said, ‘This is about the kids having a proper education.’ ... Ralph was a really pragmatic realist, and he always wanted to do what was best for children.”

Mayor Barbara Delgleize said she knew Bauer for about 30 years, since before her own time in city politics, getting to know him through her work on the Huntington Beach Council on Aging.

“Ralph and a couple of other people were very involved in building a new senior center in the park,” Delgleize said. “He had meetings at his house, and the meetings often were so crowded that we’d have to sit on the floor. What I really appreciate about Ralph is that he was just so committed. He inspired me not to give up. Charlene is the same way but much more quiet.”

In 1996, Ralph Bauer and Dettloff put together a city proclamation addressing racism, “A Declaration of Policy About Human Dignity.” A year later, they helped start the Human Relations Task Force, now known as the Human Relations Committee.

Councilwoman Natalie Moser got to know Bauer well after she was appointed to the Human Relations Task Force in 2017 but also because they shared a passion for finding solutions for homelessness. Bauer was part of the original Homeless Task Force in 2015.

“Ralph never stopped being involved in this community,” Moser said. “His fingerprints are left all over the city of Huntington Beach ... He loved being in the room where change was happening.”

A charter member of the Amigos de Bolsa Chica, Bauer was also instrumental in the establishment of Central Park and the city’s Sports Complex. He helped found the Greater Huntington Beach Interfaith Council.

Bauer Park, on Newland Street, was named after him in 2012. He was also recently selected to receive the UCLA Chemistry and Biochemistry Alumni Legacy Award.

“I would say there’s probably no one in the history of Huntington Beach that has had such a lasting impact,” Dettloff said. “You can look at changes that were done in the city, and know that Ralph was behind those.”

Ralph Bauer is survived by his wife, Charlene, his children Eric and Elaine as well as five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Plans for a possible memorial service have not been set, Eric Bauer said.

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