Obituary: Pasadena Philanthropist, World War WII Veteran John Francis Watkins Dies at 92

Published : Wednesday, December 27, 2017 | 4:38 PM

John Francis Watkins, who spent a 40-year career as a senior executive and board member of Jorgensen Steel in Los Angeles before committing more than 30 years of exemplary service to numerous Southern California nonprofit institutions, died peacefully at home on December 9. He was 92.

Watkins, the fifth of seven children of Edward Francis Watkins and Louise Ward Watkins, was born in Alhambra on May 21, 1925. He moved to the Linda Vista area of Pasadena in 1930 and attended Polytechnic School, Loyola High School, and Loyola College for one year, before entering the Navy toward the end of World War II.

Assigned to the Pacific Theater, Watkins served as a naval ensign and was part of the Navy flotilla that assessed the damage caused by the A bomb that the United States dropped on Bikini Atoll.

After the war, Watkins came home to Pasadena and was hired by Earle M. Jorgensen, a family friend, to work at the Earle M. Jorgensen Steel Co. His tenure at the company lasted for the next 40-plus years.

In 1949, he co-founded a bachelor organization called Los Solteros (the Bachelors), which had a charitable mission in addition to numerous social activities. The focus of their philanthropy was Boys Republic of Chino Hills, a facility for troubled youth which became the first of dozens of organizations that benefited from Watkins’ selfless commitment of time, talent, and treasure.
After Reliant Steel purchased Jorgensen in 1995, Watkins began a second life of philanthropic endeavors, setting a course to help transform Catholic education institutions across the Los Angeles Archdiocese, and with a group of like-minded Catholics help create governance structure across literally dozens of schools.

Watkins’ remained committed to the military and its veterans through the rest of his life, serving on the national board of the Navy League, helping in activities with the USS Pasadena Foundation, and assisting with countless placements of individuals at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. Recruiting allowed him the opportunity to serve the country with distinction as a civilian.

He was also the catalyst for millions of dollars of capital and program fundraising. For his work in this regard, Watkins was recognized with a Cardinals Award in 2003.

In addition, Watkins enjoyed numerous associations with Southern California Historical Societies that reflected the family’s presence in California since the founding of the state.

Watkins was honored in the opening ceremonies of the 2017 Rose Bowl with other veterans in a wonderful recognition to a life of service.

Formerly married to Adele Hughes, Watkins is survived by four children: Stephen (married to Carol), Katherine (married to Erik Schwenck), John Jr. (married to Christine) and William; and his beloved grandchildren: Madeline, 22; Charlotte, 20; Arabella, 19; Ellie, 16; Dorothy, 13; Christian, 13; and Johnny, 8.

The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations in Watkins’ name be made at one of three institutions: Boys Republic, Dolores Mission or Holy Family Church.


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