Chuck Ayars dies, leaving a Rotary legacy

Services were held April 3 for Del Mar Rotarian Chuck Ayars who was 84 when he died due to complications from a March 30 fall.

He was remembered at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Del Mar, where the longtime Solana Beach resident had been a parishioner and board member. Ayars was highly involved in the broader San Diego community, having also served on the boards of St. Paul’s Retirement Home, The Bishop’s School, the North County YMCA, the Del Mar Chamber of Commerce and Episcopal Community Services. In several cases, he was a founding or charter member of these organizations.

“He loved helping people, from babies and children to seniors, his whole career,” his daughter Deborah De Angelis said.

However, Ayars is probably best known for his lifelong passion and commitment to Rotary. Having belonged for more than 50 years, Ayars served as the president of three Rotary clubs.

“He’s easily one of the most beloved members of the club,” Del Mar Rotary President Rob Mullally said. “It’s a big, big loss.”

He championed the Rotary’s campaign to eradicate polio, making several trips to Africa and India to administer vaccines to children (including one just last year). He also led the charge with the Del Mar Rotary to create and sell “Good-bye Polio, Thanks Rotary” bumper stickers, which have raised millions for the Polio Plus mission worldwide.

Charles Orvil Ayars was born in San Diego Oct. 27, 1924. His parents were aviation pioneers who helped build the Spirit of St. Louis, the single-engine plane Charles Lindbergh flew solo from New York to Paris.

In fact, “Charles Lindbergh babysat for my dad when his mom was sewing wheel covers for the Spirit of St. Louis,” De Angelis said.

When Ayars was 5, his father died in a test plane crash. But this did not deter him from pursuing flying.

After he graduated from Hoover High School and earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of California, Los Angeles, Ayars served as a Navy pilot for three years during World War II.

Later in life, he would fly the family to visit the Arizona grandparents. His childhood sweetheart and wife Janet Clithero Ayars would co-pilot, while their three young children, Deborah, Charles Jr. and Tom were snuggled in the back.

Ayars worked for San Diego 1st National Bank, running the Del Mar branch when it was the only bank in town.

But as a Navy reservist, he was recalled to active duty during the Cuban missile crisis. This evolved into a second civilian career managing the Air Force’s mineral and oil rights, working in the Pentagon, Andrews Air Force Base and Panama City, Fla., for 14 years. He retired from the reserves after 33 years with the rank of captain.

But Ayars always made time for community service. Wherever he moved, if there was no Rotary club to join, he founded one. He worked to instill the values of giving and kindness in his children.

“Before it was the popular thing to get your kids involved in, he had us helping in soup kitchens,” De Angelis said.

In 2002, after 55 years of marriage, Janet passed away. Through the bereavement process, Ayars reconnected with family friend and fellow widow Eileen Innis. At 80 and 75, respectively, they were married.

“He was the most generous, honest, faithful person you ever met,” Eileen Ayars said. “He led a Christian and Rotarian life - I heard him swear twice and both times were ‘damn.’”

The three Ayars children and their families blended happily with Eileen’s three sons, Jack, Steve and Doug, and their families. All told, Ayars had 14 grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

Donations may be sent to Rotary International Foundation Polio Plus c/o Rotary Club of Del Mar, P.O. Box 552, Del Mar, CA 92014; St. Peter’s Church, 334 14th St., Del Mar, CA 92014; or St. Paul’s Retirement Home Foundation, 238 Maple St., San Diego, CA 92103.