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Earthly Travel Inspires Memorial to Astronaut

May 25, 1986|DEAN MURPHY | Times Staff Writer

On weekday mornings, sometimes while it was still dark, Gregory Jarvis used to drag his repainted orange bicycle out of his garage on 6th Street in Hermosa Beach, pedal seven blocks down to the beach and then head north on The Strand for a six-mile journey to El Segundo.

By the time he arrived at Hughes Aircraft Co. on the single-speed bicycle, one of about half a dozen bikes he kept in the cluttered two-car garage, Jarvis was sweaty and ready for a change of clothes.

"He had a locker room for an office," recalled Russ Wood, a senior technician at Hughes who worked with Jarvis and occasionally biked with him. "He had his clothes in there for work, his things for biking--he even had a cot in there."

Jarvis, a Hughes engineer who regularly biked to work and often took cycling trips with his wife and friends all over North America, also had a passion for flying. He was one of two civilians aboard the space shuttle Challenger when it exploded shortly after takeoff in January. All seven crew members died.

Four months after the disaster, Jarvis' widow, Marcia, remains secluded from the public, sharing her grief only with her closest friends and relatives. When NASA released her husband's remains early this month, Marcia Jarvis declined to say where he would be buried, although unconfirmed reports from NASA said the remains would be scattered at sea off Hermosa Beach.

Some employees at Hughes who knew Jarvis also still find it difficult to talk about the man they say brought laughter and personal warmth to the space program there. Eyes still fill with tears and throats grow dry when employees recount stories about the astronaut, known as Greg to both friends and strangers at the aircraft company.

But while those who knew--or knew of--Jarvis continue to mourn his death, some of them have found his love for bicycling as a way to deal with their grief. This weekend, capitalizing on the appropriateness of the Memorial Day holiday, a group of Hermosa Beach residents and Hughes employees are launching a fund-raising drive to build a bicycle rest stop as a memorial to Jarvis and the Challenger crew.

The Challenger Shuttle Memorial Committee, established by the Hermosa Beach City Council shortly after the shuttle disaster, has reserved a booth at the annual three-day "Fiesta de las Artes" in downtown Hermosa Beach. The booth, next to the information center on Pier Avenue, is being manned by volunteers and friends from Hughes and Hermosa Beach.

Both NASA and Hughes have donated shuttle memorabilia to the committee, including rare mission patches and photos of the Challenger crew that are being given to contributors. Other items, including laser photos of the crew and snapshot-size photos of various space missions, are for sale. Prices range from $5 to $100.

The shuttle committee, led by Michael Sheets, a Redondo Beach resident and a friend of Jarvis who worked with the astronaut at Hughes, has met half a dozen times at the Community Center in Hermosa Beach to come up with ideas for the memorial.

At a meeting last month, the group settled on the bicycle rest stop and decided to purchase equipment for the new Challenger Science Lab established at Hermosa Valley School. Both projects were endorsed by Jarvis' wife and have received conceptual approval from the Hermosa Beach City Council. Jarvis lived in Hermosa Beach for the last 16 years of his life.

The larger of the two memorials, the bike rest stop, would be built along The Strand, preferably near the Jarvis home at 6th Street, the committee members said. While the actual design will depend on how much money the committee collects and what the city and local residents allow, several renderings have been proposed to give contributors an idea of what the group hopes to build.

May Include Fountain

An announcement about the memorial that appeared in a Hughes employee newsletter described it as a 20-by-30-foot alcove along the path, containing a park bench, a foot rest, an engraved bronze plaque and a bicycle rack. Sheets said the group has also considered including a drinking fountain.

"We are still very much open to suggestions," Sheets said. "The idea is to get the community involved. With this memorial, we don't want to fail. There is a lot of reverence about it for those of us who have been working on it."

Mary C. Rooney, coordinator for the city's Department of Community Resources, has served as the committee's liaison to the city and has helped the five-member group organize its fund drive. Rooney has worked with many city committees, but she said the shuttle committee has been different.

"It is the opposite problem of most committees," she said. "Everybody does too much work. Everybody comes in with so many ideas. There is a lot of enthusiasm about it."

Most Important Aspects

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