State Parks Superintendent Ron Schafer dies

Schafer, who was a champion of parklands and was an avid swimmer, died after participating in the Nautica Malibu Triathlon.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

Ronald P. Schafer, superintendent of the California State Parks’ Angeles District and one of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area’s most ardent champions, died last week. He was 53.

A long-time competitive swimmer, Schafer had just finished a classic relay race in the Nautica Malibu Triathlon on Sept. 12 and was lunching with friends when he collapsed from a stroke. He died three days later at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center.

When not in the pool, Schafer was the State Parks’ most visible face in a drive to establish new parks and protect public lands in urban areas, including protection of the Santa Monica Mountains state park area above Malibu.

Schafer was instrumental in introducing the concept of strategic partnerships between federal agencies (the National Park Service), local organizations (the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, whose board he chaired since 2008) and private landowners in order to establish natural open lands for city dwellers.

Joe Edmiston, executive director of the conservancy, said about Schafer, “The Santa Monica Mountains and all of California have lost a great ally. Ron was a rock of integrity with an easygoing, yet indomitable spirit. His good nature and absolute commitment to public parkland made him a standout as a colleague and friend.”

Born in Akron, Ohio, Schafer grew up in Newport Beach and Los Gatos, Calif., before attending the University of Texas, where he swam competitively. He graduated from San Jose State University with a bachelor’s degree in biology, while continuing to swim at a master’s level and competing in United States Lifesaving Association national lifeguard events.

His team placed fifth in its division at the Nautica Malibu event, with Schafer’s time of 00:14:24 charting in the top 10 of swimmers within his class.

Raine Kishimoto, recreation coordinator for the City of Calabasas and director of aquatics at the Calabasas Tennis & Swim Center, where Schafer trained, knew him well.

“Ron was in great shape and just a great guy,” Kishimoto said. “He was one of our regulars, always smiling and willing to pitch in to help put kick boards and other pool material away. We’re just floored.”

Schafer began his lifelong association with State Parks early on, lifeguarding at Huntington and Bolsa Chica state parks before graduating from the State Park Peace Officer Academy in 1984. He quickly rose through the ranks of the State Parks system, working in the Orange Coast District, Riverside County and the Bay Area District before moving to his position of superintendent of the Angeles District in 2002.

Director of State Parks Ruth Coleman said, “There was tremendous passion in all Ron did in life. He leaves behind a legacy of park protection and a deep sense of respect that will live on for many people for years to come.”

Schafer believed that urban populations should have immediate access to parklands and focused intensely on building multi-stakeholder partnerships that would create and protect open areas in Los Angeles County.

Two downtown Los Angeles parks he shepherded include the Rio de Los Angeles State Park along the L.A. River and Los Angeles State Historic Park, north of Chinatown. He also oversaw development of the new public use area of Baldwin Hills within the Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area.

Until recently, Schafer was living in the ranger residence at Malibu Creek State Park, where he welcomed a visit from U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar in July. Salazar was in Malibu as part of a nationwide listening tour for America’s Great Outdoors Initiative, touting the very multi-agency cooperative efforts to protect public parklands that were dear to Schafer’s heart.

Malibu Mayor Jefferson Wagner knew Schafer well.

“Ron was in charge of oversight at the Malibu Pier State Park and my boss,” Wagner said. “He was a fellow surfer and an honorable man of his word in dealing with me and our other best friend, Hayden Sohm, in bringing the pier back to life. People always get mushy when someone passes, but Ron really was that guy who had vision and relentlessly guided you fairly to achieve that goal. I will miss him.”

Schafer is survived by his mother, Pat Farrell; brother, Randy; twin sons, Jason and Thomas; daughter Sarah; half sister Jennifer DeAnda; and two stepbrothers, Timothy and Sean Farrell.

Service arrangements have not been announced. Flags throughout the Santa Monica National Recreation Area and State Parks were flown half-staff this week in memory of Schafer.

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