Santa Clara University

Bronco Profiles

A leap of faith

Alum jumps from a plane to celebrate turning 80

Joseph Rechenmacher
Joseph "Rick" Rechenmacher '49 (Photo: Courtesy of Adventure Center Skydiving)
When asked what surprised him most about his recent skydiving trip,

80-year-old Joseph “Rick” Rechenmacher ’49 quipped, “That I did it!”

 

“Since I am a staunch Democrat, I hate to admit that my jump was influenced by George H. W. Bush’s 80th birthday jump in 2004,” explains Rechenmacher. Through Hollister-based Adventure Center Skydiving, Rechenmacher was teamed with Steve Rafferty, and the two did a tandem jump from 15,000 feet on July 4, 2005. He says his family, which includes his wife, Esther, 10 children, 30 grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren, was very supportive of his plans. Eighteen family members and friends were on the ground to welcome him down from the sky.

 

An ex-pilot who was a member of the Navy Air Corps during World War II, Rechenmacher says the height did not bother him, but he was surprised by the pressure. “You are free falling for the first nine thousand feet,” he explains, “and you reach a velocity of 120 miles per hour...I could hardly breathe.” But once the parachute was deployed, he says it was like “sitting in a lawn chair. It is just gorgeous. You have no sensation of falling, and it is so quiet.”

 

After graduating from SCU, Rechenmacher began his career as a civil engineer, and he worked in that field until 2005. In a career spanning more than half a century, he subdivided a lot of land, as well as designed drainage, sewerage, and water systems. “I didn’t design huge buildings or dams,” he explains. “I just did the basic engineering work that the community needs to function properly.”

 

Rechenmacher says there are other things he’d like to see accomplished in his lifetime. “First of all, I would like to finish the tree house I started in the huge elm tree I planted in our backyard 40 years ago,” he says. “I was stopped by a minor heart attack two years ago.” He also says he wants to live to see publicly sponsored elections, universal health care, an energy-independent United States, and elected officials who “actually govern according to the Christian ethics taught at SCU.”

 

—Elizabeth Kelley Gillogly ’93 is contributing editor of Santa Clara Magazine.

 

Commanding Chief:

Joanne Hayes-White '86 is now SF's first female fire chief


Joanne Hayes-White '86
Joanne Hayes-White

Though many consider her a role model for girls, Joanne Hayes-White ’86, who in January 2004 became San Francisco’s first female fire chief, thinks beyond that. “For my sons, to see their mom on a fire truck, and now leading the department, that’s a great message,” she says.

 

That spirit also motivates the department’s increased outreach, which she sees as critical in such a diverse city. She hopes that visibility will inspire trust and encourage the next generation of firefighters.

 

Hayes-White spent her years at SCU involved in the Santa Clara Community Action Program and playing intramural sports, while majoring in business and minoring in philosophy.

 

San Francisco began accepting female applicants for the fire department in 1987, and the very next year Hayes-White took the entrance exam. In 1990 she joined the SFFD, one of the first 10 women to be firefighters.

 

During the next 14 years, she worked at each of the city’s 41 station houses, held several different positions, was certified as an EMT, and became the department’s training director.

 

In January 2004, just days after he was sworn in as mayor, Gavin Newsom ’89 met with Hayes-White to discuss the department’s top spot. “He wanted someone who would be able to break out of the mold of what a fire chief is and what a fire chief looks like. I have a different skill set, which I think appealed to him.”

 

In the two years since becoming chief, she has helped the department to enhance its visibility, organizing outreach programs to local schools on subjects like asthma awareness, first aid, and disaster preparation

 

In addition to being the first woman to head the SFFD, Hayes-White is the only woman nationwide to head such a large public safety unit. As a department veteran and a local, she’s gained
credibility by knowing the layout of the city and most of her force very well. She has earned support from the community and the department, even in the face of challenging decisions.

 

“I wouldn’t ask anyone to do anything I wouldn’t be capable of doing myself,” she says.

 

Even now, as the boss, Hayes-White asks a lot of questions, which she has always done and always felt was encouraged, especially at Santa Clara. Questions, she explains, are not “bothersome.”

 

“It’s how you learn, it’s how you grow. Teamwork, collaboration, listening, respect for other people’s opinions...all that was reinforced throughout my education,” she says.

 

—Sarah Stanek is a writer/editor in SCU’s Office of Communications and Marketing.

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