FORMER AIRPORT MANAGER DAN SABOVICH DIES AT 79.
MOJAVE - Dan Sabovich, a one-time farmer who transformed a failing county airport into one of the largest centers of employment in the Antelope Valley, has died.
Sabovich spent 32 years running the Mojave Airport, which is now a designated commercial ``spaceport'' and is where the SpaceShipOne reusable rocket plane was launched last year.
Sabovich died Thursday at age 79. Services are 11 a.m. Tuesday at Hillcrest Chapel at Hillcrest Memorial Park, 9101 Kern Canyon Road, Bakersfield.
Under Sabovich, the airport grew from a one-time Marine base, established during World War II, to a major civilian employment center with aircraft designer Burt Rutan among its innovative tenants.
He stepped down in 2002 when Stuart Witt became general manager but the airport board created for him the position of district manager so his knowledge was still available to his successor.
The Mojave Airport has about 125 tenants, ranging from private aircraft owners renting tie-down space to Rutan's Scaled Composites company, which made SpaceShipOne, and civilian test pilot school.
``It's such an interesting airport,'' Sabovich said in a 2001 interview.
The airport began as a dirt landing strip in the early 1930s. During World War II it was rebuilt and enlarged as a Marine Corps air base.
In 1961, the airport reverted back to Kern County civilian control. Unable to run the airport cost-effectively, county government sold it.
Sabovich, a farmer and avid pilot who lived outside Bakersfield, joined a group of investors trying to buy it.
``It had long runways. It was next to two major freeways and the railroad,'' Sabovich said in 2001. ``It was like a ship in the water not going anywhere.''
Sabovich's investment group was outbid, but the winning investors asked him to help in the title transfer. He remained interested in the airport through its purchase by another group and then its reversion to county government ownership. Sabovich was asked to manage the airport under county ownership.
In the early 1970s, then-Rep. Barry Goldwater Jr. suggested that Sabovich, a friend, lead an effort to create a district with a publicly elected board to oversee the airport. The East Kern Airport District was created in 1972, and Sabovich was again asked to run the airport.
Born June 26, 1925, in the Central Valley town of Reedley, Sabovich served in World War II as a squad leader of Filipino guerrillas on the island of Luzon. He was wounded in action and awarded the Purple Heart.
After the war Sabovich returned to Bakersfield and joined his parents and brothers in farming.
Survivors include his wife of 55 years, Jerri; daughter Debbi Gaston; son-in-law Randy; and grandchildren Dacy and Drew Gason. Sons Mark and Danny died before him.