Treasures of the Valley » Mike Lawler

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La Cañada’s John Goddard – Professional Adventurer

Mike Lawler is the former  president of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at

Mike Lawler is the former
president of the Historical Society
of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at

When I was growing up in the ’60s attending local schools, I looked forward each year to the visit of John Goddard. Goddard was a local man who had made for himself a life of constant adventure, and he would share his fascinating stories. On the day he was to visit, we would all crowd into the cafeteria. The lights would go down, and we would be transported to a different world – a world of real danger and excitement. We heard stories of piloting a jet faster than the speed of sound, kayaking down an unexplored river surrounded by impenetrable jungle, or deadly encounters with river pirates. And all these stories were encased in an overall philosophy of living life to its fullest, of setting goals and achieving them. I’m sure it flavored my own life and encouraged me to take chances and to try for lofty goals. I’ll bet it touched nearly every young soul in that dark cafeteria. He brought his films and slides to schools all over L.A. What better legacy could Goddard have left than to have influenced thousands of young minds with a philosophy of achieving goals?

John Goddard grew up in Los Angeles in the 1930s. Like many boys of that time, he read a steady stream of adventure books and magazines, and watched adventure movies and serials in theaters. But unlike other boys he saw reality in those mostly made-up tales. He was greatly influenced by hearing adults bemoan lost opportunities in life, sadness that they had not done more in their lives. Goddard decided he would live a life of adventure, and leave no regrets behind. At the age of 15 he compiled a list of 127 goals to achieve in his lifetime. That list would chart the course of his life. His “Life List” contained a wide variety of goals, not just exploring, but athletic and intellectual goals, from scaling the tallest peaks and exploring the longest rivers, to running a five-minute mile and reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. He served in WWII and after getting a degree in psychology and anthropology from USC, he began ticking off items on his list, using his home on Beulah Drive in La Cañada as home base.

Here are some of the items from his list that he achieved: He kayaked the entire length of the Nile River, over 4000 miles, the first to do so, and followed it up with another kayak trip the length of the Congo. He climbed 12 of the world’s highest peaks. As a civilian pilot, he set a speed record of 1500 MPH in an F-111, and, in another military jet, an altitude record of 63,000 feet (12 miles!). He landed and took off from an aircraft carrier. He studied primitive cultures all across the world, circumnavigating the globe four times. Athletic goals kept him in shape for his travels: he could easily do 20 pull-ups and 200 sit-ups, high-jumped five feet, and broad-jumped 15 feet.

Intellectual goals were on the list: he composed and played music, learned languages, taught a college course, and wrote a book (he actually wrote two about his adventures). Some goals were commonplace. He became an Eagle Scout, went on a church mission, visited a movie studio, and learned to type 50 words a minute.

Goddard funded his adventures with school appearances, from elementary through college, did motivational speeches for corporations, and through book sales. He met his wife, a fifth-grade teacher, on one of his school visits, and they had six kids. His wife even accompanied him on his later adventures.

There are a few on his list that he didn’t achieve. He never climbed Everest, never visited the moon, and he never appeared in a Tarzan movie (goal number 93).

Goddard died three years ago of cancer at Glendale Adventist, but he was proud that he had checked off goals number 126 and 127, “Marry and have children” and “Live to see the 21st century.” As Goddard was fond of saying, “It’s ridiculous to tip-toe through life.”

John Goddard’s full “Life List” can be viewed at

Categories: Viewpoints

1 Response for “Treasures of the Valley » Mike Lawler”

  1. Bill o!malley says:

    I enjoy your column. I also grew up in the 60′s in La Crescenta and graduated from CV. Although I no longer live in Ca, your column is my once a wk. connection to my childhood home and collective experiences growing up. Thanks!

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