Donald Lahr

Santa Maria is mourning the death of Donald E. Lahr, a longtime local businessman and civic leader, who served as Mayor of Santa Maria from December 1998 to December 2000.

Mr. Lahr died of a stroke Tuesday night at home in Santa Maria, four days after celebrating his 81st birthday.

Before and during his term as Mayor, he was among the successful proponents of changing the mayoral term from two years to four years, in an effort to help lend stability to City government. Satisfied that voters approved that change through a November 2000 ballot measure, Lahr did not seek re-election when his term expired.

Describing the mayoral four-year term as “one of my prime
objectives,” Lahr explained that he believed that the two-year term diminished the power and authority of the Mayor’s position and was inconsistent with the four-year terms of office for City Councilmembers. He and others reasoned that most communities in California who also directly elected their own
Mayors had four-year mayoral terms. Most voters agreed, authorizing the change by a count of 64 percent to 36 percent.

In that same election, City voters approved a ballot measure that changed Santa Maria from a General Law City to a Charter City. A Charter City can adopt laws, different than the general State laws, to meet the specific needs of the City.

“He knew how our City worked. His interest was in the community, not in his own vested interest,” said Donald A. Lahr, one of his four sons. “He was a natural leader.”

Mayor Larry Lavagnino said Mr. Lahr made Santa Maria a better community. “He was our good friend and I feel great sorrow for his passing,” the Mayor said. “He didn’t want to be a politician, but he wanted to contribute. He had a knack for doing the right thing.”

Mr. Lahr was president of Lahr Electric Motors, a Santa Maria business founded by his father in the 1940s. He sold the business about 15 years ago. He shared his business expertise by serving on the Santa Maria Economic Development Association and was its president, and was a past president of the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce.

He also served on the Santa Barbara County Planning Commissioner as an appointee of County Supervisor Harrell Fletcher (who died January 3, 2011).

Mr. Lahr’s civic service included being one of the founders of Community Bank of Santa Maria, president of the Orcutt Union School Board, a YMCA board member, and he held a Gubernatorial appointment to the State Fair Board. He was very proud of belonging to the Noontime Rotary Club of Santa Maria.
He was born in Peoria, Illinois, and graduated from high school in Genoa, Illinois. He was an Eagle Scout, and attended Alan Hancock College.

He is survived by his wife, Doris T. Lahr, and four sons, Donald A. Lahr, Larry Lahr, Jeffery Lahr, and Thomas Lahr. Arrangements are pending.

Questions may be directed to the City Manager’s Office, 925-0951 ext. 372.