John Joseph Bukovec

Former La Plata County resident John Joseph Bukovec died Sunday, March 11, 2012, in San Gabriel, Calif. He was three months shy of his 99th birthday.

Mr. Bukovec was born to Peter Victor and Anna (Schindler) Bukovec on June 14, 1913, in Falfa on the Florida Mesa. He was the youngest of seven children and grew up on the family farm, where the Bukovecs ran dairy and beef cattle, raised chickens and pigs, had a vegetable garden and orchards and grew wheat and alfalfa.

After he finished the eighth grade at the Orr School, Mr. Bukovec had to leave school to work on the farm.

In 1942, he was drafted into the Army and sent to Sheppard Field, now Sheppard Air Force Base, in Texas. His family said he was ranked third in an engineering course with 1,000 men, many of whom were college graduates. Mr. Bukovec went on to supervise a shift of mechanics who serviced airplanes day or night in North Africa near Casablanca, Morocco, and at Bari, Italy.

“He was most proud of his success as a United States Air Forces mechanic, not only throughout the rigorous engineering training program, but in the application of what he had worked so hard to learn as he kept the Army’s wheels turning, its planes flying and our fighting boys safe,” his family said.

At the end of World War II, Mr. Bukovec and his brother Frank took over running the family farm, converting the operation primarily to raising beef cattle. His brother Richard founded the Model Tire Store on Main Avenue, and he was often found helping out on tow runs or in the store.

“Over the years, John and Frank worked on the local telephone company lines and offered their Caterpillar for many local community projects,” his family said. “The two built rock walls, cement projects, and John, starting in his teens, built several buildings on the farm still in existence today.”

In June 1968, Mr. Bukovec moved to San Gabriel to be with his sister Lillian. After a few months, he left for Australia, which he had always wanted to see. He worked in Sydney as an auto mechanic for three years.

“John took full advantage of his time among Australia’s people and natural splendor, thoroughly enjoying the experience,” his family said.

In 1972, he returned to California to be with his sister, who had just lost her husband. Mr. Bukovec continued working as an auto mechanic at two area firms until he was 65, and from the age of 65 to 92, he worked for himself as a mechanic and handyman on a number of projects around San Gabriel.

He often returned to Durango to visit family.

His family said he “loved helping his family, friends and neighbors in every way possible. He did this joyfully well into his 90s.”

No immediate family survives. Mr. Bukovec is survived by numerous nieces, nephews and extended family members.

A celebration of life was held March 19, 2012, at Rose Hill Cemetery in Whittier, Calif.