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Local News

Former Santa Maria Mayor Donald Lahr Dies at 81

The longtime businessman and civic leader died of a stroke at home

The City of Santa Maria is mourning the death of Donald E. Lahr, a longtime local businessman and civic leader who served as mayor of Santa Maria from December 1998 to December 2000. Lahr died of a stroke Tuesday night at home in Santa Maria, four days after celebrating his 81st birthday.

Donald E. Lahr
Donald E. Lahr

Before and during his term as mayor, he was among the proponents of changing the mayoral term from two years to four years, in an effort to help lend stability to city government. Satisfied that voters approved that change through a November 2000 ballot measure, Lahr did not seek re-election when his term expired.

Describing the mayoral four-year term as “one of my prime objectives,” Lahr explained that he believed that the two-year term diminished the power and authority of the mayor’s position and was inconsistent with the four-year terms of office for members of the City Council. He and others reasoned that most communities in California who also directly elected their own mayors had four-year mayoral terms. Most voters agreed, authorizing the change by a count of 64 percent to 36 percent.

In that same election, city voters approved a ballot measure that changed Santa Maria from a General Law City to a Charter City. A Charter City can adopt laws, different than the general state laws, to meet the specific needs of the city.

“He knew how our city worked. His interest was in the community, not in his own vested interest,” said Donald A. Lahr, one of his four sons. “He was a natural leader.”

Mayor Larry Lavagnino said Lahr made Santa Maria a better community.

“He was our good friend, and I feel great sorrow for his passing,” Lavagnino said. “He didn’t want to be a politician, but he wanted to contribute. He had a knack for doing the right thing.”

Lahr was president of Lahr Electric Motors, a Santa Maria business founded by his father in the 1940s. He sold the business about 15 years ago. He shared his business expertise by serving on the Santa Maria Valley Economic Development Association and was its president, and was a past president of the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce.

He also served on the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission as an appointee of county Supervisor Harrell Fletcher (who died Jan. 3, 2011).

Lahr’s civic service included being one of the founders of Community Bank of Santa Maria, president of the Orcutt Union School Board, a YMCA board member, and he held a gubernatorial appointment to the State Fair Board. He was very proud of belonging to the Noontime Rotary Club of Santa Maria.

He was born in Peoria, Ill., and graduated from high school in Genoa, Ill. He was an Eagle Scout and attended Allan Hancock College.

He is survived by his wife, Doris Lahr, and four sons, Donald A. Lahr, Larry Lahr, Jeffery Lahr and Thomas Lahr. Arrangements are pending.

— Mark van de Kamp is a management analyst for the City of Santa Maria.

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