June 17, 1920 – Jan. 15, 2014
Liz Blackwelder (born Elizabeth June Gerrard) grew up in Atherton, Calif. where she attended Castilleja School for Girls. At age 17, she entered Stanford University majoring in biological sciences. There she was engendered with the Stanford motto, “Let The Winds Of Freedom Blow.” Throughout her life, Liz took bold steps and savored new vistas and pursued her passions.
Family misfortune necessitated her leaving Stanford after her sophomore year and she moved to Illinois. There she worked for Abbott Laboratories doing medical research. The biology training she had received at Stanford helped her to become a naval W.A.V.E officer during World War II. Liz was the first W.A.V.E. officer to be assigned to the National Naval Medical Research Institute in Bethesda, Md. There she worked on anti-malarial drug testing and the development of emergency life raft rations for those lost at sea. Later she headed up the laboratory at Astoria Naval Hospital (Oregon) and her last six months of service were completed at Oak Knoll Naval Hospital in Oakland, Calif. where she taught hematology techniques to Navy corpsmen and women.
After the war, she returned to California to complete her college years at UCLA. There she earned a bachelor’s degree in zoological studies and in 1948 met her future husband Spencer Blackwelder (1920-1996). Liz and Spencer were married in August 1950 and Liz abandoned her career as a medical technologist to focus on the tasks of raising a family. She has four children: Lenora, Steven and twins Clyde and Robert.
Liz also helped Spencer in his real estate business. She earned her real estate associates license, her graduate real estate institute credential and managed the general insurance arm of their business. Liz was also active in the PTA, Mothers of Twins Club, Bluebirds, Brownies, Girl Scouts and Little League Baseball. She was a founding member of the Flintridge-La Cañada Guild of the Huntington Memorial Hospital which annually produces the oldest children’s horseshow west of the Mississippi. She served as president of the Guild in 1957 and 1958.
In 1969, Liz and Spencer took their four kids out of school for an entire year to travel the North American continent. They traveled from Alaska to Quebec, from Maine to Key West, and throughout Mexico and Central America to the Panama Canal before turning homeward to California. This remarkable odyssey was initially a way to separate their kids from the emerging drug culture of the late ’60s, but it turned out to be an incredible education in geography, history, languages and cultures, and most importantly, the dynamics of six people learning to get along in the cramped space of a camper. The adventure lasted exactly one year to the day, and none of the family has ever forgotten the lessons of this experience.
Liz enjoyed riding horses since her early childhood in Atherton where she often galloped her pony on Sandhill Road. In the early ’70s, Liz became interested in the sport of endurance racing. On one of her most beloved mounts, Chungo, a big bay thoroughbred, she entered numerous 50-mile contests including Drakes Bay, The King City, the Almaden, the Mariposa, the Big Bear and many others. Based on her performances, she was admitted to the grand daddy of endurance races, the Western states Tevis Cup – a 100-mile grueling challenge across the peaks of the Sierra Nevada near Donner Pass. With her family members as crew, Liz successfully completed the race in 1975 and again in 1979.
The longest ride of her equestrian career came in 1976. Liz was the outrider for the California Wagon of the Bicentennial Wagon Train Pilgrimage, a re-creation in reverse of the western expansion of our nation. The California train began its journey in the Rose Parade on Jan. 1, 1976, and continued every day thereafter until its arrival in Valley Forge, Penn. on July 3 of that year. Liz completed the more than 3,000 mile, six-month trek atop her pride and joy Chungo.
In 1980, at age 60, instead of slowing down as most do at that age, Liz seemed to just be hitting her stride. She served as president of the Rose Bowl riders, a private club, from 1980 thru 1998. She considered one of her greatest achievements while working with the Friends of Cherry Canyon the 1996 acquisition of 40 acres of open space in the heart of La Cañada Flintridge. The area was owned by an out-of-state developer and plans were presented to the city for luxury homes subdivision. Liz worked tirelessly to convince the LCF City Council that they had a unique opportunity to preserve this last undeveloped area that one day could be a network of trails to benefit the residents of La Cañada Flintridge and surrounding communities. Working with the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, the Trails Council developed several trails in Cherry Canyon, which later became city-owned Cherry Canyon Park. Liz helped to develop a signage system for all of the trails in La Cañada Flintridge. Liz’s Loop, a trail named in her honor, was built in 1994. She worked on the Gould Canyon trail and on the Ultimate Destination trail that offers one of the most beautiful view-spots in all of the trail system.
Along with the help of the La Cañada Flintridge City Council and many other organizations, Liz’s long-time dream to bring water to Cherry Canyon was realized with the dedication of the Ultimate Destination Project in spring 2013. Its self-actuated watering hole at the summit now provides a refreshing drink for trail users and their animals alike. Liz was a fierce advocate of maintaining the trails for the benefit of all who would use them … especially for the equestrian. Although Liz was forced to give up riding in 2004 at the age of 84, it was her vision to see the completion of a continuous loop trail in 2011.
Liz was recognized and honored by numerous cities, county and state agencies and organizations for her valuable contributions in protecting, preserving and creating trails and open spaces for the present and future generations. She received the California Trails & Greenways Conference Lifetime Volunteer Achievement Award in 2013. This was a California statewide award for her lifetime dedication as a trails advocate.
Liz Blackwelder is survived by her four children, her daughter-in-law (married to Clyde), and her two grandchildren Jaemin and Natalie. The family requests that donations in Liz’s name be sent to the La Cañada Flintridge Guild of the Huntington Memorial Hospital, the La Cañada Flintridge Trails Councils, or any equestrian organization of the donor’s choice.
A memorial service will be held by invitation only.