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Douglas and Ruth Helmick Lier
Doug and Ruth Lier are both of Scandinavian descent and perhaps that partially explains how they fit together so well. Doug notes his heritage is Norwegian and Danish, and Ruth descends from “Viking kings.” Maybe that bond also fires the apparently boundless energy and interests they share and pour into the community — much to the betterment of Los Alamos for the past 60 years.
Green Bay, Wis. was home to Doug until he left to attend St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., where he earned his bachelor’s degree in physics. Following graduation, he joined the Navy’s Officer Candidate School. Due to his background in physics and math, Doug was sent to Sandia Base in Albuquerque for training as a nuclear supervisor. He served out the remainder of the Korean War in the far East as a nuclear supervisor aboard Navy carriers.
He later joined the Los Alamos Laboratory as a joint task force member, then as a lab staff member in J and P divisions, and ended his 36-year lab career in the directors’ office.
Ruth Helmick Lier grew up in Des Moines, Iowa and at 22, was happily completing her master’s degree in microbiology when she learned the Los Alamos school system was seeking a science teacher.
She wasn’t particularly interested in pursuing that opportunity, but her father suggested she take the job. She taught in Los Alamos for two years, then was awarded a one-year Fulbright research grant for pollen analysis in Norway. She returned to Los Alamos and taught for three more years and in 1955, organized the first Los Alamos School science fair.
Doug and Ruth met in Los Alamos shortly before Ruth took a new job teaching biology and anatomy at Phoenix College. When they were both in Los Alamos, Ruth said Doug was “not a reliable date.” He couldn’t tell her when his work involved travel — he simply didn’t show up.
When she moved to Phoenix, it was a 560-mile commute from his apartment to hers. He proposed on a 113-degree day in Phoenix and they were married in Des Moines during a blizzard. The temperature was -30 degrees. “The hot and cold of it,” Doug said, smiling.
Once back in Los Alamos, Ruth worked at the technical library in research bibliography, doing reference for high temperature chemistry and physics until 1959, when their first child was born. She left the lab but remained a substitute teacher for junior and high school science classes.
Ruth later returned to the lab in the plutonium facility as a chemical technician, but eventually transferred to the technical training group to helped organize the IBM’s computer training program.
In the mid-1980s she became the education director at the Bradbury Science Museum where she initiated family-friendly evening programs on topics such as dinosaurs.
She also developed a two-hour Saturday morning program with lab scientists who shared their areas of expertise with fifth graders; and she helped design the current museum. Ruth feels science museums are the thing of the future.
Both Doug and Ruth have volunteered in the community for decades and many of their efforts have been directed toward youth, for example, scouting. When their daughter’s Girl Scout troop needed a project, Ruth suggested a nature trail. She worked with the girls to identify an area (the Quemazon Nature Trail), identify flowers, obtain Forest Service assistance in labeling plants and build the trail.
Doug said he thrives on working with youth and scouting continues to be a big part of his life. He was scout master for Boy Scout Troop #193, starting in 1957. In the 1960s, he volunteered numerous times when he learned scouts in the area needed adult participation in a Philmont Scout Ranch long distance trek.
The Los Alamos County’s Fourth of July parade stems from the Liers’ desire to create a daytime activity for children as a prelude to evening fireworks. Independence Day in Norway includes children dressing in native costumes and marching around neighborhoods waving Norwegian flags.
Ruth decided this was a great idea to adopt and in 1965, initiated a parade with 10-15 neighborhood children, who walked or rode tricycles around the Villa/Walnut loop dressed in red, white and blue. They kept to the sidewalk and Doug went ahead to clear obstacles. Some time later, Ruth’s sister suggested carrying transistor radios so Ruth called Daryl Burns at KRSN. He eventually agreed to play marching music from 9:30–9:45 a.m. on the Fourth, so children could march carrying radios blaring John Philip Sousa.
In 1976, the YMCA sought a special Bicentennial project and Ruth suggested the first community-wide Fourth of July parade. That parade took place with almost 600 children. Police blocked the streets, Fire Chief Albro Rile put an old fire truck in the parade, and a tradition was born.
During the 1960s, Doug helped initiate the lab’s SARA program (Service Academy Research Associates) that connected faculty and senior technical students from the service academies (Army, Navy, Air Force, Merchant Marine, Coast Guard) with scientific staff in the lab doing special research projects.
One objective was to bring youth into the system so in later careers they would remember Los Alamos and contributions it makes to the world. Local people who provided housing loved these students because they left bedrooms neat and you could bounce quarter off the bed.
They were members of the original swimming club that had high school pool time between 9 and 10 p.m. “After you went skiing and ice skating — a bunch of us did that for quite a few years,” Ruth said.
He was also instrumental in the creation of Barranca Pool and as president of the Barranca Pool Association, was involved in negotiating for land, designing and building the pool.
Twenty-five years ago, Doug helped form a mini-triathalon with Bill Hudson and since then holds records on the number of starts and finishes. He defeated some SARA cadets.
The Liers were early members of the Los Alamos Ski Club. Doug served on its board of directors, was president from 1959-1960 and remains an avid skier today.
He notes the move he helped orchestrate from Sawyers Hill to Pajarito Mountain — to become a family “backyard ski opportunity” — has succeeded beyond any early club leader’s dreams.
Ruth served six years on Los Alamos County’s Art In Public Places Advisory Board. She sought greater diversity in the types of art selected for the county — forms beyond paintings.
Ruth is a charter member of a local P.E.O. group (Philanthropic Educational Organization) that supports women through scholarships, grants, awards and loans. She served on the New Mexico PEO State Board of Directors including a term as president. She volunteers at the Los Alamos Medical Center lobby shop.
She has given talks on yellow wild flowers of Los Alamos. She and Doug give talks at the Senior Center, 16 thus far, on their travels from Antarctica to the Sahara, Asia and more.They have been very active in the Bethlehem Lutheran Church, both have taught Sunday school and they still volunteer.
They are longtime members and supporters of the international Folk Dance Club and the Los Alamos Geological Society.
He sings with the Lads of Enchantment Barbershop group, she assists Visiting Nurses with their annual daffodil fundraising program and this doesn’t begin to cover it all for either Lier.
Where does their leadership and drive for community service come from? Doug said his family was “deeply and integrally” involved as a part of living.
His father was very involved in the community in Green Bay and found funding for the Green Bay Packers’ Lambeau Field.
Ruth’s family likes to be involved. “We see changes to be done and we try to get involved and get things done”, she said, adding “we signed Magna Carta, were on the Mayflower, signed the Declaration of Independence, established Iowa by homesteading and wrote the Iowa Constitution.”
“We love Los Alamos,” they said. That certainly has been to the community’s great advantage for six decades.