VISTA — Longtime president of the Vista Historical Society and former San Diego County Supervisor Paul Eckert passed away at his home on Jan. 4 in Vista. He was 88.
Dubbed a “community icon” by former Vista City Councilman Frank Lopez, Eckert was elected to the Board of Supervisors in 1978 and served for eight years.
Following his local political career, Eckert was president of the Vista Historical Society from 2009 to 2014 and remained a member up until his death, serving for many years alongside his late wife, Diane.
“You can’t find people who did what he did for this town,” Lopez said. “Vista has lost a person who cared so deeply for this community.”
Eckert was “instrumental” in turning the historical society into the reputable organization that it is today, negotiating with the city to secure the museum its current building today in Rancho Minerva, according to Jack Larimer, a member of the society.
Eckert, who ran a van and storage company in Vista for decades in addition to being a real estate developer, also assisted the organization’s museum by allowing the society to store a considerable amount of its artifacts on his properties, Larimer added.
“He was very generous…he spent a lot of time and effort as well as money at this museum, and he was one of the main people that got us in here and got this organization going,” Larimer said.
Eckert was devoted to the historical society, applying his time and resources to ensuring that the museum’s quality and strength as an organization was kept up, according to Lopez.
“He was there when anybody needed help…whenever he was at the historical society he’d get it done, he’d pay for it himself, he did it all because he wanted the community to do well,” Lopez said.
In addition to his work at the museum, Lopez emphasized the former supervisor’s varied contributions to the Vista community in a number of different ways. Eckert was a board member and supporter of the local Boys & Girl’s Club, and was heavily involved in a variety of other local groups, including the Elk’s Club, Rotary Club of Vista and Vista Junior Chamber of Commerce.
Lopez expressed that Eckert was extremely passionate about helping the youth, recalling at one point he bought a piece of property in Santa Fe that was used as a drug rehabilitation center for young adults for several years, with Eckert being directly involved in the program.
“There’s no one who donated to this community more,” Lopez said. “He had Vista in mind with every project he worked on, and he allocated so much of his own money to this city in a lot of ways.”
Perhaps no charitable cause was closer to Eckert’s heart than the Boys & Girl’s Club of Vista, of which he was a founding member, according to club president Matt Koumaras, who spoke of the former supervisor’s exceptional commitment and financial support for the organization.
“(Eckert) was not only a major donor but he also really got the community inspired to help the club,” Koumaras said. “He liked the Boys & Girls Club so much because he really saw that kids are the future, and he said that if you want to change America, start by supporting the kids.”
Koumaras and Lopez spoke both of Eckert’s generosity and his people-oriented demeanor, with Koumaras calling Eckert a “father figure” to himself and others.
“He was a wonderful person — he was a great storyteller, a problem solver, and a lot of things. He was a caring person with a wonderful smile, a great sense of humor, and very patriotic,” Koumaras said.
Like most prominent community figures, Eckert rubbed some people the wrong way and didn’t always get along with everyone, but no one could question his generosity, his optimism and his good-naturedness, Lopez said.
“Sure there were people that didn’t like him, but even to those people he was always polite, he never badmouthed anyone, a mean word never came out of his mouth…people can’t say enough about the good he did here.”
Eckert grew up in Lawndale, California, and moved to Vista after graduating high school, shortly before the family founded the moving and storage business that Eckert later ran. He met his wife Diane in 1954 and the couple later had two children, Robert and Paula. Eckert is survived by his children, six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.