Les Ayers, a retired Army colonel who became a leader of Sonoma County's early environmental movement, died Sunday at a daughter's home in Santa Cruz County following a long illness. He was 89.
An Eagle Scout and Peace Corps veteran, he was always ready to work on projects he felt were important, said his daughter, Lauren Ayers of Sonoma. He joined the fight against Warm Springs Dam in the 1970s and helped found Sonoma Land Trust.
"He wanted to help people," she said. "He was a team player."
Born Leslie Sherman Ayers in San Francisco, his father was an Army officer at The Presidio.
He attended military prep school, graduated from West Point in 1945 and served on the staff of Gen. Douglas MacArthur during the occupation of Japan.
He also served in Brazil and at Fort Riley, Kansas, before retiring as an Army major in the mid-1950s. He then became an administrator with the Atomic Energy Commission and worked at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory.
He achieved the rank of colonel in the Army Reserve.
Ayers finished his career in Washington, D.C., with the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, part of the State Department.
After a year of traveling in Europe and Asia, Ayers and his wife Audrey settled in Sonoma Valley, where he built a log house on Fifth Street West near Leveroni Road.
His interest in the environment came from years of travel, camping, skiing and other outdoor pursuits, his daughter said.
A longtime member of the Sierra Club, he was worried that Warm Springs Dam was susceptible to earthquakes, she said.
His military background gave him a unique ability to analyze technical information, said Petaluma environmentalist Bill Kortum, who worked with Ayers on the Warm Springs campaign. He was never afraid to challenge the status quo, Kortum said.
"I was always amazed that he had such progressive ideas," he said.
Ayers and fellow Warm Springs opponent Iva Warner raised questions that led the Army Corps of Engineers to redesign the dam, making it safer, Kortum said.
He played a key role in establishing the Sonoma Land Trust in 1976, Kortum said. The nonprofit has preserved more than 25,000 acres of scenic land.
Ayers also performed some of the less-glamorous jobs in local environmental groups, raising money and keeping the books, his daughter said.
In Sonoma, he tended grapevines, fruit trees and walnuts on the family's four acres. He particularly enjoyed fixing machinery, working with wood and enjoying a cold brew on his deck, his daughter said.
The couple later spent two years in rural Guatemala with the Peace Corps.
"My dad's job there was to fix sewing machines and work with the Boy Scouts," Lauren Ayers said.
They stayed in Guatemala after the Peace Corps and built schoolhouses.
In addition to his daughter Lauren, he is survived by daughter Claudia Ayers of Soquel and a son, Russell Ayers of Gold Beach, Ore.
Four grandchildren and one great grandchild also survive.
He asked that no memorial service be held.
— Steve Hart