Major General Bob Butcher
USMC - Retired, Chairman of the Board
Bob is a distinguished Marine Corps aviator with worldwide service. He is a recipient of the Defense Distinguished Service Medal; the United States’ highest non-combat related military award. Serving in the Republic of Vietnam he received the Distinguished Flying Cross, 15 Air Medals and the Bronze Star.
His assignments included; Assistant Wing Commander; Assistant Chief of Staff for Plans and Policy for Naval Striking Forces Southern Europe, Naples, Italy; and Commanding General of a Marine Expeditionary Brigade of over 14,000 Marines. He was Commander of Landing Force Training Command at Coronado when retiring in 1992.
In retirement his community commitments have included President of the Silver Strand Chapter of the Military Officers Association of America, Deputy Commander West of the Marine Corps Aviation Association, Board of Directors of the USS Midway Museum, Board of Directors of the Centennial of Naval Aviation Foundation, and Board of Directors of the Coronado Council of the US Navy League.
Brigadier General Michael J. Aguilar
USMC - Retired, Vice Chairman
During his 31-year Marine Corps career, Mike held a variety of flying and command billets, accumulating over 4000 hours, primarily as an Attack Helicopter Pilot.
In addition to commanding a helicopter squadron and air group, he was also the Director of the West Coast Drill Instructor School, the first aviator to hold the billet. Staff assignments include Senior Military Assistant to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy and Deputy Director for Operations, the National Military Command Center, the Joint Staff.
He is a veteran of the Gulf War. His personal decorations include the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star, the Meritorious Service Medal and the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal. He has the added distinction of being the first person of Mexican descent to reach the rank of General Officer in the United States Marine Corps.
Patrick Ball has devoted his career to Education. For over 27 years Patrick served the non-profit sector in various capacities at the Gemologicial Institute of America (GIA) including; classroom and online instructor, Director, GIA New York, Director, GIA Alumni Association, Director of Training and Director of International Operations. He is internationally recognized as a leader in educational delivery, alumni membership development, and the design and implementation of digital technology for educational content delivery. A Graduate Gemologist with an expertise in diamonds and colored stones, Patrick has traveled the globe as a public speaker, project management consultant, and public relations liaison. Patrick is an accomplished writer. He has written numerous articles and blogs and has produced several series of educational podcasts. He holds a B.S. from The University of Phoenix in e-Business.
Lieutenant Colonel Joe Bassi, PhD
USAF - Retired, Board Member
Joseph P. (Joe) Bassi, Assistant Professor of Arts and Sciences at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University/Worldwide, completed his PhD in History at the University of California, Santa Barbara in June 2009. He specialized in the history of modern US science. Most recently, he was a senior project engineer with the Aerospace Corporation supporting national security space efforts at Vandenberg AFB. During his PhD program, Professor Bassi was an Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation National Science Foundation IGERT Public Policy and Nuclear Threats research fellow at University of California, San Diego and also was a Guggenheim pre-doctoral fellow in Space History at the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.
A retired US Air Force officer with twenty-six years of active duty, he at various points in his military career served as Director of the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (Guam), Professor of Strategic Studies at a DOD professional college, Headquarters US Air Force Action Officer and Program Element Manager, Chief of the Acquisition Meteorology Office at Air Force Space Systems Division, and Assistant Professor of Physics at the USAF Academy. After retirement from active service, Professor Bassi served as a space policy analyst in the Office of the Secretary of Defense while working for the Aerospace Corporation.
In addition to the PhD, he has graduate degrees in Meteorology from Penn State, Astrophysics from the University of Colorado, and History from the George Washington University. While at GWU, he was a NASA Space Grant Research Fellow at the Space Policy Institute, Elliot School of International Affairs. He graduated from Manhattan College in 1974 with a BS in Physics (Phi Beta Kappa) and was a distinguished graduate of the Air Force ROTC program. His current interests include the role of technology in national security, national space policy, and US space science history.
Colonel Victor Bianchini
USMCR - Retired, Board Member
Victor is a distinguished retired Reserve Marine Corps Colonel, a retired San Diego County Superior Court Judge and a retired U.S. Magistrate Judge currently serving on recall to the Central District of California. His active duty tours are numerous and include; Tank Platoon Commander, 4th Tank Battalion; Commanding Officer of the 4th Force Reconnaissance Company, San Bernardino and was the unit’s jumpmaster; He is the former Commanding Officer of the 4th Force Reconnaissance Company, San Bernardino and was the unit’s jumpmaster; Trial and Defense Counsel for Court Martials at various installations; a Combat Correspondent and OIC of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing’s Photo Labs, and a Civil Affairs Officer in the Republic of Vietnam. He was the Commanding Officer of the MTU (Law) 12-1, San Diego, and the OIC and Senior Military Judge of the Reserve Military Judges Unit, Sierra Circuit, Camp Pendleton; the Deputy Inspector General, U.S. European Command, Vaihingen, Germany; and an investigating InspectorGeneral at Marine Corps Headquarters during the 1991 Gulf War.
He is a former aircraft owner holding commercial multi-engine, instrument and helicopter licenses. He has both practiced law and taught law; been San Diego Trial Lawyers’ Judge of the Year, served as a Senior Fulbright Scholar in the Sub-Saharan African country of Eritrea, been President of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Historical Society, Vice-chairman of the Vietnam Veteran’s Village of San Diego, a member of the National Judicial College Faculty Council, President of the San Diego County Law Library Board of Trustees, and President of the San Diego County Law Library Justice Foundation.
His personal decorations include the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star w/Combat “V”, 3 Air Medals, Joint Services Commendation Medal, the Combat Action Ribbon, Combat Aircrew qualification, Navy/Marine Corps Parachute qualification, and Vietnamese Parachute qualification.
Robert “Bob” Cramsie is a career aerospace maintenance and manufacturing technician. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Aviation Technology from Everglades University and a Masters of Aeronautical Science with an emphasis on Human Factors in Aviation Systems from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. A licensed Airframe and Powerplant mechanic with the FAA, he is currently a volunteer in charge of restoration of the Douglas SBD-1 Dauntless that is the pride of the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum.
Bob spent his early professional career as an aircraft maintenance technician beginning with Pacific Southwest Airlines and US Airways (now American Airlines). He continued his aerospace career at Lockheed Martin Aerostructures in Florida as a Lead sheet metal technician, building canopies and components for the F-16 and F/A-22 aircraft along with sub-assemblies for the C-130 Hercules.
Edward DeRoche, PhD
Edward DeRoche, Ph.D., joined the University of San Diego’s School of Education as dean in 1979 and returned to the faculty as professor and director of the Center for Character Development Center in 1998. He received his Bachelor’s degree from the University of Maine and a M.Ed. degree from Eastern Connecticut State University. From the University of Connecticut he earned a M. A. and a Ph.D. degree. DeRoche has been an elementary and junior high school teacher and principal, a member of a public school board of education, and has served on several private school boards. He is the past president of the California Association of Teacher Educators, past vice president of the San Diego Council on Literacy, and a former member of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. He also served as a member of the National Commission on Character Education for the Association of Teacher Educators. DeRoche has published more than fifty articles in education journals and many articles in daily newspapers. He has authored or co-authored several books on education topics including teaching, administrative leadership, and character education.
Col John Farnam
USMC - Retired, Board Member
John served 26 years in the Marine Corps as a Weapons and Sensors Officer flying the FA-18D. He flew numerous combat sorties in Bosnia Herzegovina, Kosovo and Iraq. John was a Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron Instructor and selected as the Marine Corps Aviation Naval Flight Officer of the Year in 1998. He served as the Commanding Officer of Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron -533 (VMFA(AW)-533) and as a Colonel was the Commanding Officer of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. Retiring from the Marine Corps in 2015 he is now the Vice President for Business Operations at Receptos.
Frank Lorey is a Federal and State-registered Historian and owner of Historical Archaeology Services. He has written 15 books (most are college-level textbooks) and has authored over 530 published magazine and journal articles. He was a regular guest star on the History Channel’s “Wild West Tech” show for two seasons, and has appeared on numerous PBS, HGTV, and other network shows. Much of his archaeology work has involved investigating historical aircraft wrecks throughout the western United States.
Frank has also founded several non-profit groups and served on the board of directors of many. He was project manager and historical designer for Old Poway Park, and is rated as Museum Curator I and II by the State of California.
Bill O’Connor began his military service in 1969 when he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps. He earned his Naval Flight Officer (NFO) wings 1971, and became a Bombardier/Navigator in the A-6 Intruder.
In 1972, Bill served in Southeast Asia, serving with VMA(AW)-533 Hawks. The bulk of Bill’s WestPac time was spent at MCAS “Rose Garden,” Nam Phong, Thailand. During his tour, he primarily participated in close air support missions throughout the combat theater. He also flew single plane night missions in to North Vietnam.
Bill’s final assignment was as an Officer Selection Officer (OSO) in Denver. He separated from the Marine Corps with a final rank of Captain.
Bill has enjoyed a 40-year career as an independent entrepreneur in the San Diego region, owning his own agency selling commercial lighting equipment to the local and regional construction markets.
CAPT Ronald G. Ress
JAGC, USNR - Retired, Board Member
Mr. Ress received his Bachelor of Arts in Government and International Relations from New York University in 1965, and a Doctor of Laws from Cornell University in 1968. Mr. Ress served with the U.S. Army Reserve before receiving his commission in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, U. S. Naval Reserve, in 1983. He was called to active duty during Operation Desert Storm.
In 1985, Mr. Ress joined the Office of the General Counsel of the Navy as Counsel to the Commander, Marine Corps Air Bases, Western Area, and served at Marine Corps Air Stations El Toro and Miramar.
He was reassigned to Naples, Italy in 2001 as Command Counsel to Engineering Field Activity Mediterranean and then Naval Facilities Engineering Command Europe and Southwest Asia. Returning from overseas in June of 2007, he became Counsel for Naval Facilities Engineering Command Hawaii, and in 2009 was selected for the position of Counsel, Naval Facilities Engineering Command Pacific. In October, 2011, Mr. Ress returned to Italy as Counsel to the Commander, Navy Region Europe, Africa, Southwest Asia.
He completed his military service as the senior Naval Reserve Judge Advocate in Europe and retired with the rank of Captain in 2005. His military awards include the Legion of Merit, the Navy Commendation Medal, the Navy Achievement Medal (third award), the Navy “E” ribbon, the Army Reserve Components Achievement Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Military Outstanding Volunteer Medal, and the Armed Forces Reserve Medal with “M” device.
Rear Admiral Lou Smith
USN, Retired, Board Member
Lou Smith is a career naval officer in the Navy’s Civil Engineer Corps. He completed three tours in Vietnam, supervising construction of combat facilities for the Marines. Later in his naval career, he was sent to Washington, DC where he worked with the Department of Defense and Congress on military base construction projects.
He retired from the Navy in 2000 as a two-star Admiral, directly responsible for more than 360 major naval bases throughout the world.
After retiring, he chose to work in the public sector, serving as Chief Administrative Officer for San Diego City Schools. He had a major role in the execution of Proposition MM, a $1.5 billion school bond.
Smith most recently served as Vice President of Facilities for Sharp Healthcare in San Diego. During his tenure there, he was involved in the construction of two new hospitals, each with a construction value of more than $150 million. He retired from Sharp in 2008.
A registered professional civil engineer, Smith is a Fellow and Past National President of the Society of Military Engineers. His civic experience includes serving on the Board of Directors of the San Diego County Taxpayer’s Association, and the Board of Sharp Coronado Hospital.
Lieutenant Colonel Richard "Touch" Toettcher
USMC - Retired, Board Member
Richard (Touch) Toettcher was commission a 2nd Lt in Oct.1963. His first duty assignment after being designated a Naval Aviator was with MAG-36 at MCAS Tustin, serving with HMM-363,263, and 361.Deployed to RVN with HMM-361 in 1965. Transitioned to the A-4 (Skyhawk) in 1968 and served a tour with VMA-211 at Chu Lai, RVN.
Attended the Marine Corps Amphibious Warfare School in 1970 and, upon completion, was sent to MCAS Yuma as a flight instructor. Was promoted to major in 1972 and ended that tour as the Executive Officer of VMAT 102.
Subsequent command assignments included Executive Officer of VMA-214, Commanding Officer of Wing Transportation Squadron and Commanding Officer of Headquarters and Maintenance Squadron 13.
Touch retired from the Marine Corps in 1986 and subsequently worked as production pilot for the T-45 and, from 1991 to retirement in 2010, he served in various positions of increasing responsibility at DynCorp.
Patrick Towle is the CFO/Treasurer of the Flying Leatherneck Historical Foundation, and a valued member of the executive management team.
He is a CPA in private practice. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Finance from San Diego State University. In 1996, Mr. Towle received his Master of Science in Accountancy, also from San Diego State.
After working for Arthur Andersen and several other industry leading companies in the Technology and Professional Service industries, Mr. Towle went into private practice.
While in private practice, Mr. Towle has continued to work with global companies in such diverse industries as Medical Equipment and Manufacturing.
Mr. Towle’s connection to Marine Corps aviation goes back to birth. He is the son and brother of Marine Aviators.
Major Francis “Mike” Wifler
USMC - Retired, Secretary
Mike serves as secretary of the Foundation and is a member of its executive board.
He enlisted in the Marine Corps and served as a Field Radio Operator with a rifle company. He served a tour in the Republic of Vietnam where he was wounded.
He later became a commissioned officer and served as the principal aide to a Marine Air Control Group commanding officer, and Deputy Commander of the Los Angeles Military Entrance Processing Station. Among his awards are the Purple Heart, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with combat ‘V‘ for Valor.
After retiring from the Marine Corps he served as Operations Manager, Facility and Security Manager, or Plant Manager for several privately owned electronics manufacturing plants in San Diego.
Sergeant Major Michael Zacker
USMC - Retired, Board Member
Mike is a highly decorated and accomplished Marine whose illustrious worldwide career on land, sea and air spanned two wars. He served four tours in the Republic of Vietnam participating in 451 helicopter combat missions. He was a helicopter crew chief and machine gunner; rifle platoon sergeant; search and recovery swimmer; and held senior executive positions. His military awards are extensive and cover both Vietnam and the 1991 Gulf War, for example, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal with combat ‘V’ for Valor and twenty-two Strike Flight Awards, and Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Combat ‘V’ and Gold star.
Retiring after a thirty-year career, he completed his education and became a real estate agent and manager of a mortgage company. He again retired and became a community volunteer where his many services include the American Red Cross, and the Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program.
The daughter of a Coast Guard officer, Lara was born and raised in New Jersey, and attended the University of Colorado, Boulder, for her BS and the University of Montana, Missoula for her MS.
Lara then spent more than 20 years working in the field of philanthropy, most recently as a CEO and Director of Development with a focus on military and veteran causes. Lara sees philanthropy as being about meeting the needs of others, and she realized the people with whom she was regularly working had a significant unmet neet. She became a financial advisor after realizing how many military service members don’t have a good opportunity to learn the needed skill to practice financial readiness, and could benefit from advice and guidance. That became her new mission, and she opened a comprehensive financial planning practice focused on active duty, veteran and military-connected individuals, families and businesses. That practice now includes five veteran and military family advisors.
As an active duty spouse, Lara is well-aware of the unique financial and emotional challenges that face military service members and their families. Lara is familiar with and understands military pay benefits, transition from military service to military career, the transitory life of service members and military retirement. She understands the stress of those who have stood in harm’s way and wants to help ease burdens and plan for success. Her mission is to create enduring relationships by providing innovative solutions and professional direction to help clients achieve financial readiness and accomplish financial freedom.
When she’s not working Lara is a volunteer with a number of local military/veteran causes, including Active Valor, the USMC Executive Ball; she is a financial readiness instructor at The Honor Foundation, is on the Advisory Board of the SDMAC, and is the Chair of the planning committee for the Veteran Entrepreneur Summit. Give that her spouse is an aviator, she feels blessed to serve on the Board of the Flying Leathernecks as well.
Lara and Mike live in San Diego with their Australian Shepherd Griffin and spend time cooking and enjoying the great local food scene, gardening, reading and being outside.
“Ex Officio” Members
Christopher Van Stelle
If there’s an aviation event in Southern California, Christopher Van Stelle is likely to be involved. He consults on numerous aviation events each year.
Christopher currently serves as the Director of the MCAS Miramar Air Show, and is also the Director of the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum. He also serves as the Vice President of the Southwest Council of Air Shows (a Regional Council of the International Council of Air Shows (ICAS), and consults on numerous aviation events around Southern California each year, including the annual SBD Fest in San Bernardino. Christopher is also the Executive Director and Air Show Director for Air Show San Diego. Prior to his current position, Christopher has assisted on the MCAS Miramar Air Show, the Hangar 24 Air Fest and the US Air Force Davis-Mothan Air Shows.
As a Pilot, Christopher planned and executed numerous aviation events including Commemorative Flyovers for the: Holiday Bowl, the San Diego Padres, the USS Midway Museum, and the Borrego Days Annual Festival. Additionally, Christopher has made numerous on-camera performances for Travel Channel’s “Ultimate Road Trips” series. He also produces FlyDays!, a monthly community outreach event with vintage airplanes, classic cars, live music and great food. He has also planned and executed multiple high-visibility events in the San Diego region utilizing his professional expertise in project/program management, risk management, executive presentations, media relations and public speaking including Jerry Coleman commemoration, ESPN opening day of the San Diego Padres/Los Angeles Dodgers, Holiday Bowl, Junior World Golf Championship and the North County Veterans Stand Down.
On the Educational side, Christopher has coordinated outreach efforts between the military and various organizations within the San Diego region to highlight the importance of the A-STEM (Aviation, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) programs and aviation history. In support of his education outreach efforts, Christopher has established and maintained liaisons with San Diego Air and Space Museum, USS Midway Museum, Miramar Air Show, Blue Angels, Breitling Jet Team, Skydiving Innovations, San Diego Antique Aircraft Association, and government leaders with the City & County of San Diego.
Finally, Christopher has held leadership positions on aviation safety, risk management matters and project management for multiple events.
Outside the Aviation industry, Christopher was an Executive in the Financial Services Industry and has sat on the Board of several non-profit Organizations.
Steve "Smitty" Smith
Steve “Smitty” Smith is the Curator of the Flying Leathernecks Aviation Museum. Smitty assumed his duties on 1 February 2009. He initially joined the museum restoration section as a volunteer in 1994 at MCAS El Toro, and was directly involved in the museum’s relocation to Miramar. Smitty joined FLAM as a full-time employee in 1999 as the Museum Librarian. He was promoted to Assistant Curator in 2001.
Smitty served in the United States Marine Corps from 1979 to 1999. He retired as a Staff Sergeant and Motor Transport Operations Chief at MCAS El Toro. Smitty is married to Deanne Shearn-Smith (also a museum volunteer), and has a son named Travis.
Smitty has had a life-long passion for aviation and military aircraft. He has attended more than 100 air shows around the country and in Japan, and has visited at least 60 aviation museums in both the United States and Canada. Smitty has an extensive personal library dedicated to aviation, Marine aviation, aircraft markings and identification. He is the author of the book “Warbird Watchers Guide To The California Skies” available at the museum store.
Smitty is currently completing work on an FAA certificate for Airframes & Powerplants. He is also pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in History.
Jon H. Epsten
Jon H. Epsten is a valued member of the Foundation’s executive committee.
Jon is the founding shareholder in the law firm of Epsten Grinnell & Howell, APC. He is a native San Diegan who graduated from the University of San Diego and obtained his law degree from Thomas Jefferson School of Law, graduating with scholastic merit.
For years, Jon acted as a community association manager. He has attended over 1,800 association meetings. Jon’s work on behalf of community associations encompasses providing advice on all types of corporate matters including directors and officers’ defense, mold and mildew litigation, interpretation and enforcement of governing documents, assessment collection, construction defect litigation, and reconstruction issues. Jon has participated in and been lead counsel on many construction defect cases resulting in multimillion dollar settlements. He actively advises associations on risk management and insurance and contract issues.
Jon has taught as an adjunct professor of law at California Western School of Law. He is past president of both the San Diego Chapter and the Greater Inland Empire Chapter of the Community Associations Institute and has testified as an expert witness in community association-related issues. Additionally, Jon was a contributor to the Continuing Education of the Bar Publication “Advising California Common Interest Communities.” He acts as a law faculty instructor for the Community Associations Institute (CAI).
Jon has also been an active member of the California Association of Community Managers (CACM), was a member of the Professional Standards Committee, and has been appointed to the CACM faculty. He is a member of the San Diego County Bar Association, the Foothills Bar Association, and the College of Community Association Lawyers (CAI). Jon was honored with the Distinguished Service Award by both the San Diego Chapter and the Greater Inland Empire Chapter of the Community Associations Institute and has received the CAI National Hall of Fame Award. He has been the co-chair of the Committee on Common Interests Subdivisions for the State Bar, and acted as a probation monitor for the State Bar.
Jon is a valued member of the Flying Leatherneck Historical Foundation’s team.
Cheri Lynn Choy
Interim Executive Director
Cheri Choy brings nearly 40 years of nonprofit management and fundraising experience to the Flying Leathernecks. Cheri spent the bulk of that time as a YMCA professional in 4 California cities and was the Executive Director of the Copley Family Y in San Diego before being recruited personally by Sol Price, founder of the Price Club, to spearhead the City Heights Urban Village, a private-public partnership serving one of San Diego’s most challenging communities.
Other employers and clients served by Cheri have been Habitat for Humanity, St. Augustine Catholic High School, Make*A*Wish, Boy Scouts, SDSU Foundation Pilot Schools, HighTechHigh.
Since March 2017, Cheri has served as a consultant to the FLHF on a part time basis to fortify the donor technologies that support the foundation, provided leadership to the recent Garden Party and orchestrated the Development Assessment and Fundraising Plan published in January 2018.
Currently in semi-retirement, in her spare time, Cheri is a partner/investor and “Grape Farmer” with Vineyard Grant James, a boutique winery in the burgeoning Ramona Valley Wine Region, San Diego County. She is also an active member of the San Diego Downtown Breakfast Rotary Club since 1996.
For nearly 13 years, Chuck has managed the day-to-day operations of the Foundation office, and provides support to the Board of Directors and management team. Chuck also serves as a liaison between the Foundation and the Museum staff. He maintains the Foundation’s critical databases, computers/office equipment and correspondence records. Chuck is the Foundation’s primary point of contact for the museum volunteer team, MCAS Miramar military leaders and civilian executives as well as Foundation members and the general public.
Chuck holds a BA degree in Journalism and Public Relations from Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. He received a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) with an emphasis in operations from the University of Redlands. Chuck also did some post graduate work in Legal Studies at the University of San Diego.
Ginger brings to the Museum store many years of experience in non-profit retail. She held the position of Director of Retail for both the San Diego Historical Society and the Coronado Historical Association. As a non-profit retail consultant, she reinvented the museum store at the Tracy Aviary in Salt Lake City and set up a brand new store at Sewell Belmont House and Museum in Washington, D.C.
Ginger’s expertise lies in public relations, merchandising, window display, event planning, and store design. With the perspective of an accomplished interior decorator, she recognizes the roles product presentation and store design play in creating the pleasant, fun shopping experience that leads to increased sales and revenue for the Museum. Her design signature is already evident in some areas of the store, and she looks forward to implementing more improvements in the future.
Her Downtown San Diego interior decorating practice, Ginger Raaka Interiors, received “Best of Houzz” awards for design in 2016 and 2017.