First published in the Oct. 7 print issue of the San Marino Tribune.
During one of his campaigns for a seat on the San Marino City Council, Gene Dryden was quoted as saying, “I want to give back to a city that has given so much to me over my lifetime.”
And he did just that.
A third-generation Californian, lifelong citizen of San Marino and student at Valentine Elementary School, Huntington Middle School and San Marino-South Pasadena High School, Dryden had a passion for his hometown and its history that was always evident.
Dryden, in whose honor a memorial bench was recently placed at Lacy Park, served the community in almost every conceivable way, including several years as a member of the San Marino Planning Commission, three terms as a city councilman and service as mayor from 1992-94. Among other accomplishments, Dryden was an honorary Rotary Paul Harris fellow, received the city’s Distinguished Citizen Award, earned recognition from the California Senate for dedication and service to San Marino, and was recognized by the Boy Scouts of America for his leadership. He was a deacon, elder and trustee with San Marino Community Church, a member of the Old Mill board and a director of San Marino City Club.
He was also co-chair of the San Marino Centennial Committee, following in the footsteps of his father, Harold Dryden, who was chair of the 50th celebration years before. And Gene Dryden also was asked by the San Marino school board to head the task force to explore efforts to preserve the Michael White Adobe that later became the Friends of the Michael White Adobe. He also served as president of the San Marino Historical Society.
A graduate of Caltech with a Bachelor of Science and master’s degrees, Dryden in his professional life was a manager of Advanced Programs at Aerojet General/Northrup Grumman in Azusa, helping develop electro-optical sensor systems for the United States Department of Defense. Among his professional accomplishments, Dryden represented the United States’ interests at NATO, tasked with verifying conventional missile disarmament under the START treaty. Upon his retirement in 2005 after 47 years of dedicated service, Northrup Grumman dedicated the Dryden Engineering Building in his honor.
Among those many accomplishments, Dryden considered his efforts as chair of the campaign to rebuild and rededicate the San Marino War Memorial in Lacy Park as one of the most meaningful projects he had ever undertaken.
“Dad always believed that the War Memorial brought the community together by acknowledging those from San Marino who had given their lives and had also served,” said his daughter, Laurie Dryden Modean. “To him it exemplified the true American spirit, one that we could honor in San Marino.”
Ann and Gene Dryden’s two children, Laurie and Jim, were raised in town and graduated from SMHS.
“The most touching day was when the bronzed statue of the kneeling soldier was delivered to the back of the police station,” recalled Ann Dryden, Gene’s wife off 66 years. “It remained there until it could be installed at Lacy Park. When I think about the moment Gene and I saw it for the first time, it was so beautiful and beyond our expectations.”
Ann Dryden said her husband wrestled with some of the verbiage that was required to complete the memorial.
“We consulted the Rev. Jeff O’Grady for the right words,” she said. O’Grady, who recently retired from San Marino Community Church, suggested a passage from the Bible and the book of John.
“‘The greatest love that one can have is to lay down one’s life for a friend,’” Ann Dryden said. “It seemed like the perfect quote.”
Gene Dryden passed away on Dec. 31, 2019, at age 86 of complications from an earlier stroke. “We all wanted to honor our dad with something meaningful in San Marino because of what this town meant to him,’ said Modean. “Since the War Memorial was so very near and dear to his heart, Jim, my mom and I felt that a bench in Lacy Park, overlooking this special space, would be perfect.”
The plaque on the bench reads “In Loving Memory of Eugene Dryden, Husband, Father, Friend … a True Son of San Marino.”