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The Lutzes teamed up to enrich the community

Lawrence George Lutz was born April 12, 1917, in Brooklyn, N.Y. He was one of three children born to William and Dora. He married Jean Gerken, born April 4, 1917, in Queens, N.Y. They were married June 16, 1940. Their first child, Ronald Lawrence, was also born in Queens.

Shortly after Ron’s birth, Larry left for the South Pacific, where he served as a project engineer for Fairchild Camera and Instrument Corp., linked to the U.S. military in the Australia-New Guinea battle theater. He was responsible for maintenance of aerial cameras that produced vital intelligence photos revealing enemy military targets.

Always on the lookout for a better solution, Larry saw the need to enable flyers with the immediate production of aerial gun-camera film. This led to his design of a mobile photographic laboratory. As planes landed, gun-camera film was passed to the lab for on-the-spot development and printing. For his achievements in the South Pacific, Larry was commended for meritorious service.



Larry’s biggest military project was yet to come. In 1946 he supervised the implementation of multicamera installations, which would document the testing of the atom bomb on the Bikini Islands. Cameras operated by remote control were mounted on 70- to 100-foot steel towers and on aircraft. This design provided complete photographic coverage of the atom bomb’s catastrophic explosion.

Writing to his wife, Jean, he said, “The biggest thrill I got was when we heard ‘bombs away’ over the radio.” Fondly thinking of his favorite treat, his description of the explosion was “It looked like a giant ice cream cone.” Then he noted: “I suppose the people back there (home) have been anxiously waiting for this day. I consider myself to be lucky to have been able to see all this firsthand.”




Back home after the war years, Larry and Jean welcomed their second child, Bonnie. In the 1950s, Larry was a general manager for American Optical, which manufactured aerospace equipment. In 1954, Larry moved his family from Long Island to Woodland Hills, Calif., an idyllic San Fernando Valley town full of orange groves and horse-riding trails.

The children learned horseback riding while Larry and Jean started on their long journey of volunteer work, which would become one of their life’s passions. They served with the Boy Scouts as scout master and den mother. As members of the Woodland Hills Community church, they coordinated fundraising and organized teen groups to help build homes and churches for Indian tribes in the southwest U.S.

When Larry retired from corporate life, the Lutzes moved to the Grass Valley-Nevada City area, where Larry and Jean became involved with the Area 4 Commission on Aging. Larry served as Area 4 commissioner. Jean served as secretary. They helped organize and grow the Nevada County Senior Center.

In the 1980s, Larry was appointed by the governor of California to the Commission on Aging, where he voiced his concerns and helped with policy at the state and federal level as a commission delegate. He was an advocate for better health care and services for seniors. Through aggressive fundraising and state grants, he was able to fund and construct an adult day- care center servicing seniors with dementia and Alzheimer’s.

In appreciation for his efforts, the center located in Grass Valley was named after him.

Larry received many accolades for his volunteer efforts, including the Rotary International Volunteer of the Year award for the western United States. During this time, Jean managed the senior center’s wood program. This program provided free wood-burning heat for needy families in the Grass Valley area.

Upon Jean’s passing in February 2007, the wood program was renamed in her honor. In the ’90s, Larry was elected to the Nevada County Grand Jury, where his focus was on juvenile crime and prevention. He worked with the grand jury on the project to build a new detention center.

Larry succumbed seven months after Jean on Sept. 27, 2007. Both had been living in Santa Maria, Calif., close to relatives, at the time of their deaths.

Throughout their busy lives, Larry and Jean were a team. They worked together as a couple to enrich the lives of their family and community. Both were tireless in their efforts to help those who touched them, wanting everyone to have a fair chance at life. They took the time to listen to people’s concerns and worked at providing solutions.

Jean and Larry are survived by their two children, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. The family wishes to thank all the people who made a difference to Larry and Jean.

A memorial will take place at the Nevada County Senior Center in April 2008. Those interested in continuing the work Larry and Jean loved can make donations to the Nevada County Senior Center at (530) 273-4961 or http://www.goldcountrycenter.org. Donations to the wood program can also be made through the senior center.


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