From his youth on a dairy farm in Ferndale, Calif., to 20 years of service in the U.S. House of Representatives, to receiving two of the nation's top aviation education awards, Don H. Clausen has seen and done a lot during his 90 years of life.
Some of those accomplishments, especially in the aviation and aerospace field, can be traced to his participation in the V5 Naval Aviation Cadet program at Saint Mary's College.
Clausen entered the pre-flight program in 1942, studying at San Jose State, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, then Weber College in Utah and finally at Saint Mary's College, where he graduated in 1943. He was in one of the first classes to graduate from the program.
"Looking back, you had to be sharp in your math and sciences," Clausen said of his studies at Saint Mary's. Courses included navigation, meteorology, civil air regulations and general aircraft maintenance. The coursework was definitely not for "wimps," he said, but it helped prepare him to meet and overcome the challenges he would face.
After flight training at the U.S. Naval Air Station in Livermore, Calif., and advanced training at Corpus Christi, Texas, Clausen flew F4U Corsair aircraft for the Navy in the Asiatic Pacific, starting with an assignment on the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga.
Clausen's squadron was one of the first to arrive on the mainland of Japan after the Hiroshima bombing. In subsequent humanitarian flights, he and his fellow servicemen dropped supplies to the Japanese people. This would greatly influence Clausen's conviction that aviation should be used for positive purposes, especially through education. He wanted to motivate young people to excel in academics, especially math and science, and then become pilots.
When he returned, Clausen worked to establish the Del Norte County Airport in Crescent City, where he also started an aviation education program at Del Norte High School (by teaching the principal to fly) and operated a charter, air taxi and air ambulance service in the community. His activities earned him the unofficial title of "Mr. Aviation of Del Norte County." The Crescent City airport terminal bears his name and California Governor Ronald Reagan said of Clausen, "You will always be one of our nation's champions of aviation."
Clausen also met and married his wife, Ollie, whom he calls "the love of my life," in Crescent City, and they raised two daughters.
His dedication to aviation education and his lifelong effort to make a difference in people's lives earned him two of the nation's highest awards—the Frank G. Brewer Trophy for significant contribution of enduring value to aerospace education in the United States, and the National Congress on Aviation and Space Education Crown Circle for aerospace education leadership.
In 1955 he began his local political career on the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors and promptly became known as the "Flying Supervisor." He also served as manager of the Crescent City Airport.
Clausen, a moderate Republican, was elected to Congress in 1963 and served for 20 years. He was the senior ranking member of the House Public Works and Transportation Committee and has an impressive list of accomplishments in Congress, including establishing the Young Astronauts Program, representing the president at the National Congress on Aviation and Space Education, and representing the United States at the First World Aerospace Education Congress in Cairo, Egypt.
When he left Congress in 1983, Clausen served at the request of then-President Reagan as director of special programs in the Federal Aviation Administration, a position he held until 1990.
Today, Clausen lives in Fortuna, Calif., where he and his family celebrated his 90th birthday in April 2013.