Walter Thomas Teegarden
Walter Thomas Teegarden (Tommy – to his 4 older brothers), 90 ½, passed peacefully on Sunday, August 16, 2020 while surrounded by his beloved wife Joann and family at home in Grapevine, TX.
Walt was born February 28, 1930 in St. Joseph, MO, the 5th and youngest son of George and Eliza Teegarden. He attended Central High School in St. Joseph, MO. From an early age, Walt wanted to fly away, and he developed a passion for flight which he satisfied temporarily by raising pigeons. He also developed an interest in classical music, took up playing the French Horn, which led to meeting Mary Joann Allen, a cute redhead girl who played the cello in the same orchestra. The two became high school sweethearts, and following graduation, married and moved to Lawrence, KS where Walt pursued a degree in aeronautical engineering at the University of Kansas.
Following graduation, and with 17-month old son Tommy in tow, Walt and Joann moved to Arlington, TX where Walt took his first job as an Aerodynamicist with Chance-Vought Aircraft. Three years later, and after welcoming daughter Teri, Walt accepted a position as “Systems and Operations Analysis” Manager for the Martin Company (which became Martin Marietta Aerospace and now Lockheed-Martin) in Waterton, CO. During this time, his second son John made a surprise landing on the scene. Walt distinguished himself in his engineering and design work associated with taking astronauts into orbit, to the moon, and to space stations, including booster rocket and launch systems for the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Space Shuttle programs. In addition to his “engineer’s eye for detail” he also excelled in building high performance teams and in providing project management leadership for these teams.
Over time, Walt’s work on space exploration, which he loved, became increasingly replaced at Martin Marietta with work on launch systems to support weapons associated with Cold War tensions … “War Games” as Walt called it. He greatly disliked this period which he referred to as working in “the Spook House.” During this stressful time, Walt found work-life balance through his passionate pursuit of a variety of hobbies. These included breeding and training Irish Setters to excel in field trials as well as the show ring, building and flying balsa-wood model airplanes, playing the French Horn in the local symphony orchestra, portrait and landscape photography with his old-school twin lens reflex camera (including fiddling in the home darkroom with film and print development – and inhaling fumes from an untold amount of toxic chemicals). He also landscaped the family home with beautiful flowers and trees and ¾ acre of bluegrass lawn which son Tommy was trained to mow twice a week during the growing season.
At the ripe age of 41, Walt started riding Tom’s bike after Tom left for college, awakening his dormant athletic talents. He upgraded to a state-of-the art racing bicycle, and quickly became a competitive cyclist and a regular on the podium in the Masters category. His commitment to cycling led to new interests which he pursued by enrolling in an MS Degree program in human performance and exercise physiology at Penn State, and moving to Pennsylvania. But after his one-year escape from the aerospace industry, Martin Marietta enticed Walt to return, where he eventually worked on the Space Shuttle program at Vandenburg Air Force Base in California. It was here where Walt was put in charge of special projects where he managed a team of young engineers, many of whom went on to have productive careers in aerospace. Walt eventually retired from Vandenburg.
Walt’s retirement years lasted equally as long as his working years. He and Joann moved up and down the west coast, developing beautiful flower and conifer gardens at their homes in San Luis Obispo, CA, Canby, OR, Vancouver, WA, and later in Bernville, PA, Martinsburg, PA, and Cedaredge, CO. His gardens of dahlias, roses, and specimen conifers would attract local attention leading to being featured in local newspapers, and with Walt being solicited to serve on the local “Tree Board” in Cedaredge, CO, where he was the designated “tree doctor” in charge of maintaining the good health of public landscapes.
After retiring from the aerospace industry, Walt’s passion for flight shifted to kite flying, during his time near the California coast, and later to drones, after he and Joann settled into their beloved home bordering the Cedaredge golf course where they were entertained daily by the deer, birds, squirrels, and the neighbor’s “frisbee dog.” After turning 80, Walt resurrected one of his early interests and started playing the French Horn again. He joined the Valley Symphony Orchestra, and he provided private lessons/practice sessions for his fellow horn players that transformed a rag-tag horn section into one of the orchestra’s top performers.
He was known for taking every endeavor to a high level, for doing common things uncommonly well. This inevitably led to being in demand by organizations of similarly inclined folks. In addition to chairing the Cedaredge Tree Board noted earlier, he chaired the local Irish Setter Club in Colorado, and was a founding officer for the Columbine Cycling Club. Walt took an interest in those around him, became a mentor to many, and developed durable friendships. His circle of friends includes fellow classmates from high school, neighbors from nearly every place he lived, former colleagues from Martin Marietta, folks who shared his passions for cameras, dogs, bikes, horns and trees, waitstaff from many favorite restaurants, and a recent social media following. He was adored by his family, was a favorite uncle to a host of nieces and nephews, and was a beloved grandpa remembered for his kindness, sense of humor, and gleaming eyes.
Walt was preceded in death by his parents, four brothers, and nearly everyone else he knew. He is survived by his wife of 68 years, Joann; one daughter, Teri Barth (and husband Mike) of Parker, CO, two sons, Tom Teegarden (and wife Jennifer Skeet) of Albuquerque, NM and John Teegarden (and wife Gail) of Grapevine, TX. He is also survived by four grandchildren; Brian Barth (and wife Yan) of Portsmouth, NH, Amanda Perea (and husband Rudy) of Las Cruces, NM, Matthew Teegarden (and wife Jess) of Misawa, Japan, and Rachel Teegarden of Grapevine, TX; and one great grandchild, Dimitri Perea, age 13, of Las Cruces, NM.
Walt was laid to rest on 8-19-2020 amongst the rose gardens at beautiful Azleland Memorial Park in Azle, TX. The family contemplates a memorial gathering, when it is safe to do so, to celebrate Walt’s life. Until then, they are preparing a “Memory Book” to present to Joann, and invite friends, acquaintances, and extended family to contribute stories, photos, and memorabilia that illustrate Walt’s rich life. Contributions to the Memory Book should be forwarded to John via JTeegarden303@gmail.com.
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