Howell Norman Watenpaugh (1930-2006)
|Norman Watenpaugh died in a tragiac accident on 15 Oct. 2006 in Gilroy, CA. Norman was born on 14 Oct. 1930. He was married to Michiko Hattori on 13 Apr. 1954. Norman was the son of Howard Norbert Watenpaugh (1899-1975) and grandson of Frank Martin Watenpaugh (1870-1960).
Howell Norman served in the Korean War as an Armaments Weapons mechanic. Norman attended Boise Jr. College and graduated from U. of Idaho in 1958 in Dairy Husbandry. He had his own farm and dairy delivery business, and worked as a farm equipment engineer. He started his own engineering business that specialized in wastewater management. He was an avid fisherman, liked to build things and was interested in photograpy. He was a member of the Presbyterian Church.
Friday, October 20, 2006
By Dennis Taylor
Gilroy's birdman struck down while walking.
The birdsong throughout Gilroy struck a melancholy chord this week with the passing of Norman Watenpaugh.
He died Sunday, the day after his family celebrated his 76th birthday with him. Seventy-six going on 36. For those in the bird-watching community, Norm was one of a kind. For me, he was a mentor. He was tireless advocate for bird and wildlife habitat, and the godfather of a program providing critical nesting boxes for cavity-dwelling birds such as western bluebirds and tree swallows.
He was also an educator - always willing to lead parents and kids on excursions around Christmas Hill Park in Gilroy during the annual Gilroy Earth Day celebration. When grass-roots groups were formed to address the ongoing threat of habitat loss, Norm was there. He was an ever-present face for the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society where each spring he kept meticulous records of the number of nesting cavity dwellers in the Gilroy area. An engineer by trade, Norm produced a birdhouse design that allowed for adjustable cavity sizes for different species of birds - a program he continued to run right up to his death Sunday.
All of this at an age when many would trade in the field work for a comfortable chair.
I first met Norm several years ago while walking my dog in Las Animas Park in Gilroy. We were passing each other on a trail and in his hand was what looked like an aluminum pool sweeper and a birdhouse. It was too much for my curiosity. I confided that I was an amateur bird watcher, which was actually a fairly elevated job description for what I did at the time - an amateur bird admirer was more like it.
Over the years I began to walk with Norm as he used the aluminum pole (it was, I later learned, a converted painting extension) to hook the birdhouses from 20 or 30 feet up in trees and check for newborn chicks and fledglings. He would record them in a tattered spiral notepad and later fill out more detailed reports that he'd send along to the SC Valley Audubon Society.
Being a mentor and a teacher came so naturally to him.
This week at his home in Gilroy I was able to glimpse another side to Norm, a husband, father and grandfather - far more cherished than the Norm I knew. Sitting in his living room surrounded by woodcarvings of graceful, elegant birds, his family recalled how dedicated he was to his grandchildren.
The last time I spoke to Norm a week or two ago in front of Nob Hill Foods in Gilroy, he broached the subject of me acquiring some of his "trails" as he called them - the routes where he has hung more than 100 birdhouses.
It didn't make much sense at the time. He was in phenomenal shape, able to hump it up steep trails and still able to carry on a conversation at the top while I was busy getting a couple extra lung-fulls of air. But I now know why he wanted to give it up. Their names are Brett and Alex and Megan, his grandchildren.
His children, Norma and Don Watenpaugh, Sandra McCarthy and Susan Bruner believe he was so dedicated to his children because he wasn't able to spend a lot of time with them while they were growing up.
"He was a field supervisor and was gone all the time," said son Don Watenpaugh.
"He was so hard working - a lot of times he had two jobs - and as a result we all have very strong work ethics," added his daughter, Susan Bruner.
When he had some leisure time, he loved aluminum and steel birds as well. There must be something about flight that intrigued Norm beyond mere curiosity. He was a veteran U.S. Air Force flyer who served in the Korean War.
"He hated war," said his son-in-law, Mark McCarthy. "Yet he knew more about vintage aircraft than most experts."
All of his family has spent time with Norm at air shows, his favorite being the Watsonville show because it is a fly-in and he was able to watch all the vintage planes soar in, Mark said.
Norm has - had - a dry sense of humor that he would use as an expression of affection - "he would tease me all the time," said his grandson Alex - as well as for irony to make a sometimes biting point.
In July we were walking up behind Christmas Hill Park checking birdhouses with fledgling sparrows. He stopped and made a gesture from the treeline toward an open expanse that will soon be home to the Glen Loma housing development.
"I guess there's nowhere else to build," he said. If you weren't looking at Norm, you might miss the irony, but he would always turn and look right at you over the top of his eyeglasses and crack a telltale grin. Point taken.
Life simply delighted him. His wife, Michiko, began laughing even before she could get the story out about their 50th wedding anniversary two years ago.
"We went to Cancun and it was the first time he saw girls with belly button rings," she said with a dismissive wave of her hand, as though to say this is another silly Norm story. "He couldn't take his eyes off them. I asked him what he was going to do and he said he wanted to trade me in for two 25-year-olds."
From there the stories flowed.
"Remember the raccoons he'd bring home?" Don asked.
"What about the turtles?" Don's sister Sandra piped in.
"Don't forget the snakes!" Susan finished. "He always had such a soft spot for animals."
And as though Susan's comment triggered a joint memory, the legend of Lacy the dog ran through the siblings like an electric current.
"Dad froze Lacy!" the entire family seemed to belt out at the same time.
Norm's beloved family dog Lacy died one winter day. He took her out back to bury her, but the ground was frozen so he needed to wait a few days.
Naturally, he put her in the freezer.
"But he didn't tell me so I went to open the freezer and here was this dead dog looking at me!" Michiko said, covering her mouth with her hand in mock horror of the memory.
While Norm was indeed a character, he also had a serious side. He could be stubborn, or as Michiko put it, "he often went in a straight line. He did not like to bend."
That is likely why he struggled with understanding why more people didn't participate in local causes when so much is at stake. "He really wanted people to take an interest," his daughter Susan said.
It seems as though I'll have a lot to think about as I'm humping it up those hills with that pool sweeper ? er, paint extension tossed over my shoulder.
Memorial services to be held 11 a.m. today, Friday, Oct. 20 at the Gilroy Presbyterian Church.
Donations can be made in his name to The Audubon Society, 22221 McClellan Road, Cupertino, 95014.
For a look at Norm Watenpaugh out in the field doing what he loved, read The birdman of Gilroy.
Gilroy Loses Birdman