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Historian, Veteran Burghardt Leaves Legacy, Precious Memories
This photo shows Glenn Burghardt, in full Navy uniform, presiding over a Memorial Day ceremony hosted at Oakdale Citizens Cemetery; an event he helped coordinate for years. Photo Contributed

On December 22, 2022, Oakdale lost one of its last city and county historians. Glenn Edward Burghardt, 89, passed away in his sleep early that morning.

Glenn was born in Merced, CA on May 24, 1933. He graduated from Fremont High School (Class of 1951) and then went on to study Business Administration and Personnel Management at the University of California in Berkeley, CA (Class of 1955). While there, he became involved with the NROTC, but was unable to finish all the curriculum due to family problems that had arisen, which required his assistance. He then went into the United States Navy, achieving the rank of 2nd Class Petty Officer and serving as a Personnel man (PN2) when he completed his enlistment.

He loved animals of all types and assisted with his parents at their pet store in Oakland, California. They did a lot of business in tropical fish, which was a big craze during those days. He was able to take this knowledge and get hired at Steinhart Aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences in 1962, where he quickly advanced to Senior Aquatic Biologist until he departed in 1976. During this era, he also wrote several books concerning animals and animals as pets. One he did about Iguanas, where he used a picture of me at about six-years-old holding this large lizard in my lap. He also took a photo of me with his pet lion. A lion that he had raised from a kitten – you could do that in those days – and I sat with it in a chair, like you would any other household cat. The pet laws later changed, so he had to take the cat to a zoo. He and my mom Laura teamed together to write a book on their favorite sea shell type, “Chitons”. On the cover was a color photo of a rare species that was named after them. The book became the “holy grail” for sea shell chiton collectors, scientists, museums and students worldwide.

In 1973, after I graduated from high school, he talked to me about joining the United States Navy, which I did. In the late 1970s he too, rejoined the Navy as a naval reservist, where he was re-enlisted as a Personnel man 1st class (PN1). By this time, he had left Steinhart Aquarium and started his own tropical fish business, which led him to move to Oakdale, California. In the reserves, he was assigned to the VR-55 squadron at NAS Alameda until he was able to secure an active duty billet (TEMAC) in Naval Air Reserve Recruiting, where he became very successful. During this time, I was also doing quite well as a Navy Nuclear Power Plant operator/electrician and supervisor aboard the USS Enterprise.

Our careers paths then crossed. I was able to secure a billet at Navy Recruiting District San Francisco, based out of Oakland, California. This came about with a lot of help from my dad’s leading chief (Chief Parks), who had connections with naval billet assignment detailers. In about a year of my start at recruiting duty, he and I were able to accomplish a rare father and son same day promotion to Chief Petty Officer. We both went through the selection and initiation together. This was a very rare feat in the United States Navy. He then became assigned at my district as the NROTC Coordinator in charge of NROTC programs recruitment. I was the Nuclear and Advanced Programs Coordinator. We both traveled, together to high schools and colleges to put out information and training within our programs.

Glenn and Laura also joined the Oakdale Historical Society, where they researched Oakdale and Stanislaus history in great depth. Between them and the Oakdale Historical Society, they helped found the Oakdale Museum at the “Prowse House” in downtown Oakdale. They were both co-curators of the museum and, along with the Oakdale Historical Society put on “1890’s Day” celebrations in Oakdale, where people dressed up in apparel representing that era.

Throughout their lives, they both kept up with their interests in sea shells. They enjoyed the ocean trips to see the sights, get their feet wet and study the sea shells in the tidal areas. Their favorite ocean spots were Pigeon Point and Point Pinos in Monterey.

They both enjoyed historical planes, trains and automobiles. We (son Jeff and I) were able to take them aboard the USS Iowa (BB61) and a tour of the Planes of Fame Air Museum near Los Angeles (their favorite plane was the P-38 Lightning, because they remembered, as kids, watching it fly over their houses during WWII).

Both of them met and had conversations with NHRA Funny Car King, John Force. Though, neither were “race car fanatics”, they always enjoyed and supported what Jeff and I did, with respect to auto racing and covering the racers.

Glenn also did the Memorial Day Ceremonies at the cemetery and Mom, Jeff and I all helped put the American flags out at each Military Veteran’s gravesite. Dad was the facilitator at the event and also did nearly all the coordination for the event each year until 2017, when he was no longer physically able to perform the tasks. He always was proud to wear his Navy Uniform for this event.

We shared so many things in life and though his has reached its end, the memories will never cease. No one or thing can take those away … memories are forever.


This article was contributed by Mike Burghardt; he serves as a Racing Correspondent for our newspapers and is the son of Glenn Burghardt.

From left, son Mike, grandson Jeff and longtime local historians Glenn and Laura Burghardt, pose aboard the USS Iowa, after Mike and Jeff helped with a restoration project for the ship. Glenn Burghardt passed away on Dec. 22, 2022; his wife Laura passed away in March of 2022. Photo Contributed