Senator Ruben Samuel Ayala

March 6, 1922January 4, 2012
Obituary of Senator Ruben Samuel Ayala


Draper Mortuary

By Al McCombs Ruben S. Ayala, the Chino native who vaulted the name of his hometown into prominence in Sacramento, and through his lifetime achievements became the community’s most noted citizen, died Wednesday afternoon in an Ontario care center at the age of 89. The Marine veteran of World War II was a former school board member, city councilman, first elected mayor and county supervisor and board chairman. He was the first state senator of Mexican heritage in California to be elected since 1911. He gained his senate seat at a special election in January 1974 and served 25 years until he was unseated in 1998 by the term limits law. During this time he was associated with four governors: Ronald Reagan, Jerry Brown, George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson Senator Ayala gained particular note by boldly undertaking leadership of the Peripheral Canal proposal as chairman of the senate water resources committee. The move cost him popularity in Northern California, and the project, for which he campaigned vigorously, failed when it went on the ballot as a referendum measure in 1982. Mr. Ayala lost only one election in his life, a Democratic primary race in 1972 to George Brown for a newly formed congressional district combining Chino and Ontario with a part of Riverside County. When he ran successfully the following year for the uncompleted state senate term of William Coombs, he conceded he had a better deal. Locally, Mr. Ayala gained benefits for Chino Valley just as he had when he represented this area on the county board of supervisors. He brokered a deal with the state under which the City of Chino received a long term lease on 40 acres of vacant prison land at Edison and Central avenues. The city built a park and named it for him. Later it was expanded to 140 acres and became totally under city ownership. In recognition of his prominence statewide and his first elected position as a school trustee, the school board named the first high school in the Chino hills for him. Despite a lifelong loyalty to his alma mater, Chino High, he and his wife Irene dedicated themselves to supporting his namesake, frequently visiting the school and attending its events. Besides his own family, Mr. Ayala had two great personal loves — the U.S. Marine Corps and University of Southern California athletic teams. Mr. Ayala came from humble beginnings. His paternal grandparents, Cesario and Inez Ayala, came to Chino from Durango, Mexico, in 1900. His grandmother Dolores Martinez was from Sonora. The future senator was born in a barrio home in Chino March 6, 1922. His immigrant father Mauricio was a laborer and well digger, jobs which often took him away from home. Yet he was ambitious for his children and a disciplinarian who steered them in the right direction. Young Ruben’s mother died when he was six, and raising the family of five fell to their grandparents and his Aunt Esther in a small house on the west side of town, hence the name of his autobiography, “Up from 2nd Street.” His future wife, Irene Morales, who died in December, 2008, grew up four blocks away. As a boy Ruben attended the segregated D Street School, then Chino Junior High and High School, where he graduated in 1941. Because of his athletic prowess, and the sports reputation of his brother Maury, Ruben caught the eye of local sports boosters as a basketball and baseball player. He was captain of the varsity basketball team as a senior. The summer after graduation he picked grapes in the San Joaquin Valley, then entered Pomona Junior College. After Pearl Harbor, he and his classmates headed for military service. Ruben chose the Marines, ending up in the First Division, which was mopping up after the battle of Guadalcanal. After rest in Australia, he was sent to New Guinea and New Britain Island. A bad case of malaria sent him back to stateside duty. He was discharged in August, 1946. A year earlier he married his Chino High sweetheart, Irene Morales. Using the GI Bill, Ruben, who had attended Pomona Junior College and had taken UCLA extension courses, graduated from the National Electronic School in Los Angeles, where he learned television repair. He became a field representative for Admiral Television, then the Homelite Corporation, selling items ranging from chain saws to sump pumps. Wanting to remain closer to home, he became an agent for Farmers Insurance, where he made the Toppers Club in the first year. At the urging of a friend who was a school vice principal, Mr. Ayala ran for school board in 1955 and won. He had been active in the Gird PTA, at the school where his three sons attended. It was his first elected position. This led to a lifetime in politics, during which he lost only one election, a primary race for congressman. His offices after serving on the school board two terms were: Chino councilman 1962-64. Chino’s first elected mayor December 1964 to November 1966. County Supervisor 1966 to 1973, chairman of the board two terms, 1968 to 1972. In 1972 he ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination in the newly formed 38th Congressional District, losing to Congressman George Brown who went on to win the general election. In December 1973 he ran for the State Senate in the 20th district to replace Senator William Coombs, who had resigned to take a federal job. Mr. Ayala came in second but there was no majority. In January he beat the primary leader, Assemblyman Jerry Lewis. Senator Ayala won six more terms before being forced out by term limits after 25 years, in 1998. As chairman of the Agriculture and Water Resources committee, Senator Ayala played a lead role in promoting the Peripheral Canal as a solution to the state’s water distribution problems, but the effort lost at the polls when placed before the voters. Legislation he co-sponsored, to establish a California Conservation Corps, employing young people looking for work, was more successful. He also authored legislation to send motor vehicle license fees, collected in lieu of property taxes on vehicles, to local government. It was approved by the voters and today is a major revenue source for cities and counties. He sponsored legislation helping the dairy industry. A bill he authored in 1980 cleared the way for the expansion of the Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona. For the Chino school district, he got a bill through in 1988 formally classifying Boys Republic High School as a necessary small high school, increasing state revenue to the district to cover the costs of the school, which mainly served students from outside the community. He brokered agreements not to increase the size of the state prison at Chino, and after the Kevin Cooper escape successfully pushed improvement to prison security, including installation of electric fences, which markedly reduced escapes. In 1993 he co-authored a bill expanding the coverage of the Ralph M. Brown open meeting act. His Senate leadership positions, particularly involving water matters, took him and Irene around the country and the world, visiting many countries including Israel, the Soviet Union and Japan, England and Australia, where he visited sites at which he had been stationed during World War II. He visited the White House several times under four presidents. Among his important committee assignments was the prestigious Senate Rules Committee. When he stepped down from the Senate he served four years on the state Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board. Besides Ayala High School in Chino Hills and Ayala Park in Chino, his name has been given to a park in Bloomington and a street in Rialto. His other honors have been numerous, including League of California Cities’ Legislator of the Year, Inland Empire Boy Scouts Jubilee Year Distinguished Citizen, and many for his water leadership. Locally he has received recognition as Outstanding Citizen and Spirit of Achievement. He was a member of the first Chino Toastmasters Club and Chino Kiwanis Club. After the death of his wife his health went down hill. In the last few months he has been cared for at Inland Christian home, where he died quietly following a long period of ill health. Mr. Ayala is survived by sons Ruben (Bud), Maurice, both of Chino, and Gary of La Mirada, three granddaughters and a great grandson. He also leaves an older brother and sister, Maury Ayala of Eureka and Rosina Lara of Chino. Draper Mortuary in Ontario is in charge of funeral arrangements. In Lieu of flowers please make donations to Ruben S. Ayala Research Center 14255 Peyton Dr. Chino Hills, CA 91709

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