Longtime docent Jack Forrest dies

He began working at La Purisima in ’85
2012-03-18T00:05:00Z Longtime docent Jack Forrest diesBy Bo Poertner / Managing Editor / bpoertner@lompocrecord.com Lompoc Record

Don’t talk about it, just do it.

John P. “Jack” Forrest lived by that concept throughout a long and fruitful life — right up the end, working as the oldest docent at La Purisima Mission.

Forrest died Thursday afternoon at his home in Santa Maria. He was 95.

“He had a huge personality. He was just intensely interested in everything,” said Forrest’s son, John Forrest, of San Diego. “When he became ill about a year ago and couldn’t be as active, he took up weaving — traditional weaving on a hand loom, the way they would have done it at the mission.”

Forrest is survived by two children, John, and Helen Swinson, Santa Fe, N.M., and a brother, Bill, a retired high school principal in Santa Monica. He was preceded in death by three brothers, his wife, Ruth in 2003, and son, Paul, of Breaux Bridge, La., in 2010.

A memorial ceremony is being planned, but no date is set.

Jack Forrest worked his way through Los Angeles City College, then UCLA, where he  studied physics with an emphasis on meteorology. After graduating in 1941, he served as a meteorologist with the Navy Reserve in World War II, stateside as well as in the South Pacific.

“He taught meteorology to fighter pilots,” John Forrest said. “He said that was the most frustrating job he ever had. All they wanted to do was fly and shoot things and he was telling them about cloud formations and high and low pressure areas.”

After the war he was a meteorologist for Pan American Airlines in the South Pacific — Guam and the Philippines. In 1950 he returned stateside and took up electrical engineering — guided missiles — with Boeing in Seattle. That job took him to Vandenberg Air Force Base in the 1960s and the Minuteman missile program, his son said.

Next stop was the nation’s space program.

“That was what he really liked. I think he also thought the missiles were not very constructive. He loved the space program — he loved ‘Star Trek.’”

Forrest retired from Boeing in the early 1970s but never stopped working.

The family returned to the Central Coast with Boeing and stayed after he retired. Forrest enrolled in the anthropology program, with emphasis on archeology at UCSB. He also took  up pottery lessons with good friend Bill Shinn at Hancock College and joined the Sierra Club.

“He was involved in saving the sand dunes at Oceano and protecting the giant coreopsis,” John Forrest said. “The yellow daisy grows on the Central Coast in the dune areas. The off-roaders, the dune buggiers were destroying them.”

Born in Minneapolis, Minn., on Jan. 23, 1917, Forrest inherited his strong personality and sense of adventure, John Forrest said.

Jack Forrest’s mother, Lois, a homemaker who raised five sons, had a powerful personality. “She didn’t have a lot of education; she was always very interested in natural history and nature — a terrific reader, just like dad, and loved to run people’s lives for them. That was that was a trait that seemed to run in the family,” John Forrest said.

Jack’s father, Frank, was an accountant with a sense of adventure.

“His father had been in the Alaskan gold rush and that’s where he met my dad’s mother, in Alaska,” John said. “Even though my grandmother had the bigger personality and my grandfather was more quiet and reserved, he did have that sense of adventure and tenacity.”

Jack Forrest had visited La Purisima Mission many times, taking his visitors there to show them the grounds. When he finally had time to fit it into his schedule, in 1985, he became a docent, along with his wife, Ruth.

“At their 60th wedding anniversary, he was asked to give one word to describe himself,” recalled docent Sheila Libby. “He brought the house down with ‘handsome.’”

Forrest was the master soap maker for many years and served during special events as the mayordomo, an historical figure who oversaw the mission ranchlands. Last year, he became the master weaver, having picked up a new trade.

“Jack was one of the kindest, most interesting, and fun to be with gentlemen I have ever known,” said Tricia Kolp, who is serving with the Peace Corps in Africa and said she was saddened by the news of his death.

“His diverse background and many travels always gave him so much to contribute to any conversation. And working with him at the mission for 20 years was such a joy as no one could connect with people the way Jack did.  He could be quite the entertainer!” she said by email.

Kolp recalled that Forrest once told her something his mother always said: ‘It was better to wear out than rust out.’

“Jack was determined to do just that — and he did.”

Copyright 2015 Lompoc Record. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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