California Aerospace, Structural Engineer and City Manager Dies at 81

Severo Esquivel, a California engineer and city manager who applied his aerospace experience to major projects including freeways, airports and baseball stadiums, has died. He was 81.

headshot of Esquivel

When he was hired by Boeing, it was to work on a spaceship called the “DynaSoar.” That program soon went extinct – but not so Esquivel’s talent. He was immediately assigned to the Minuteman ICBM program, and later became a design engineer on the original 737 aircraft.

Esquivel, M.ASCE, was also a design engineer and scientist supervisor on the DC8, DC9 and DC10 at McDonnell Douglas. He was proficient in quality control of the missile silos and construction of control centers, working with officers from the Air Force and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

This heavy steel and concrete experience was useful later in his involvement on major construction projects in Phoenix (freeways and Sky Harbor International Airport) and Fresno, California, (a baseball stadium and Fresno Yosemite International Airport).

He was raised in a family of farm workers on the Tagus Ranch, near Tulare, California. His father was his first mentor, but his goal was to follow his sister to the University of California, Berkeley. He gained admission to Berkeley, graduating in 1962 with a B.S. in civil engineering, then building his talent further with an MBA from Southern Illinois University and an M.A. in urban studies from Occidental College.

During his 10 years in aerospace engineering Esquivel, a Life Member of ASCE, came to realize his deep respect for the people who were busy managing a city, which aligned with so many values from his youth on the ranch.

“I found that I could manage a lot of things, even with my engineering background, that the police department needed, that the fire department needed, like a high-tech fireboat … and that I could manage things in local government,” Esquivel once said in an interview with ICMA, the city managers’ association where he held a life membership.

He became a National Urban Fellow in 1972-73, which began his second career. He served as an assistant city manager of Tacoma, Washington; city manager of Yuma, Arizona; assistant city manager of Phoenix and later San Diego; city manager of Pomona, California; and deputy city manager of Fresno, California.

During the 1960s, with its war alerts and assassinations, Esquivel’s aerospace experience meant gathering lots of valuable qualities that would carry over to his work as a city manager – things such as confidentiality, creativity, experimentation, project management, scheduling, on-time performance, precision, risk-taking and dealing with stress.

He loved describing himself as a point of contact. And when he retired he could look back on listening to President John F. Kennedy at the Greek Theatre, meeting with such Nobel Prize–winning scientists as Edward Teller, and being inspired by his hydraulics professor, Hans Albert Einstein, son of one Albert Einstein.

Esquivel supported many charitable and nonprofit organizations, including the National Urban League, United Way, and Knights of Columbus. He and his wife Cecelia were devout Roman Catholics.


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