Wednesday, July 18 , 2018, 6:18 am | Overcast 64º

Posted on June 28, 2016 | 10:24 a.m.

Otakar “Prach” Prachar of Santa Barbara, 1912-2016

Source: Welch-Ryce-Haider Funeral Chapels

Otakar P. “Prach” Prachar

Otakar P. “Prach” Prachar, a 52-year resident of Santa Barbara, died June 24, 2016, at the age of 104.

Prach was born into a Czech immigrant family in Minneapolis April 4, 1912, and grew up in Willow River, Minn., on a farm where his father was a beekeeper.

The northern Minnesota farm was plentiful with wild blueberries, which Prach’s younger sister, Mildred, who also lived past 100, credits for their longevity.

In his early years, Prach showed a proclivity for woodworking and creativity, and at age 16, built a fine violin modeled on classical designs.

He graduated from the University of Minnesota with a bachelor’s degree in engineering and a master’s degree in physics. In 1941, he married Lydia Emma Erickson, also a graduate of the University of Minnesota. 

After a brief period with Allis-Chalmers in Milwaukee, he joined Allison, a division of General Motors, in Indianapolis, in 1940. 

During World War II, Prach was involved in modifications to the Allison V-1751 engine, used extensively in the P-51 Mustang and several fighter planes deployed at the time.

He held several patents on engine designs related to the V-1751 and worked on many post-war turbo-jet and other related aeronautical engine designs. 

In 1960 Prach and Lydia moved to Santa Barbara after General Motors established a new think tank, Defense Research Laboratories (later Delco) in Goleta.

At DRL Prach was involved in military engineering, automotive work (including original designs for collision air-bags) and NASA projects (including the design of the lunar rover).

Though he never liked watching television, his family remembers him glued to the TV watching the first 1969 lunar landing. 

After retiring from General Motors in 1976, Prach was involved in a local Santa Barbara engineering firm, SeaTek, that designed stabilization devices for offshore oil-drilling platforms. 

In his retirement years, Prach spent most of his time in computer programming and wood and metal machining as well as designing scientific experiments and reading topics such as science, history, genetics and social evolution. 

Prach loved showing off his latest fractal, his newest mechanical contraption or his current experiment to demonstrate some scientific law.

He spent a month going down to Hendry’s beach every evening to test his own program to calculate sunsets. He embraced technology, keeping an iPad by his side, and placed Amazon orders well into his 100s.

When his eyesight began to fail him during the last few years, he continued his love of learning by listening to virtually every science, technology, history and philosophy audio book in the Public Library system.

Prach remained “young” by following the antics of his three great-grandchildren, who would always bring a proud smile and a chuckle.

Prach applied the scientific method and intellectual curiosity to his thinking on social, political, environmental and scientific topics.

(Prach learned Russian as an adult so he could read Chekhov and Tolstoy novels as originally written.)

He was tolerant of a wide range of viewpoints and examined them all carefully before forming his own opinions. His views on a wide range of issues were in constant flux, even to his 104th year.

His family has been much influenced by his message that one’s views can adapt and change by intellectual endeavor and contemplation of all facts instead of simply accepting popular beliefs.

Prach was preceded in death by his wife, Lydia, who died Feb. 23, 2016. 

He is survived by his sons, Greg and Bill, and Bill’s wife, Merrill. He is also survived by granddaughter Alexandra Germain, her husband, Paul, and their three children, Tyler, Kaylee and Ethan, who live in Newton, Mass.

Arrangements have been entrusted to Welch-Ryce-Haider Funeral Chapels.


Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >