Dick Moe of Rolling Hills Estates, whose philanthropic spirit and golden touch for raising millions of dollars for causes that touched his heart, died at home Thursday, July 5, at the age of 90.
He leaves behind a rich legacy built with his wife, Joan Hurst Moe, co-founder of the Norris Theatre who died five years ago.
From dairy farm to engineer
Born June 11, 1928, in Menomonie, Wisconsin., Moe grew up no stranger to hard work doing chores on the family dairy farm.
After graduating from high school in 1945, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and lead radio operations on Okinawa Island in Japan.
After he was discharged, he signed up at the University of Wisconsin, courtesy of the G.I. Bill, but had to finish his engineering degree in only three and a half years, when the bill’s financing would end.
Described as a lifelong “math wizard” by his daughter Julie Moe-Reynolds, Moe began his career as an engineer for General Motors and became involved in the company’s space mission projects which took him back and forth between Wisconsin and California.
On one of those trips, he was staying in a company-provided apartment building in Brentwood when he spotted his future wife, a model and an actress, swimming in the pool.
“He said she was the most beautiful woman in the world and he was going to meet her,” his daughter said, recalling the family story. “The rest is history.”
They married after he relocated permanently to California in 1960 and he went to work in 1963 for TRW, where he remained for more than 30 years before retiring. While at TRW, he worked in satellites and on the nation’s race to put a man on the moon with a key part in helping design the lunar descent module for the landing of Apollo 11.
Norris Theatre is launched
Even before he retired, Moe had become deeply involved in his community. He and his wife led the fundraising drive to build and open the Norris Theatre in Rolling Hills Estates in 1983. He joined the board of directors and became board president in 1986.
He also was the driving force behind obtaining the property and raising the capital to build the Harlyne J. Norris Pavilion, which opened in 1999. Both were members of Rolling Hills United Methodist Church.
In a testament to his ability to get along with people, Moe was president of his homeowners’ association for 40 years.
“Dad was the most amazing fundraiser in the world, people just couldn’t say no to him,” Moe-Reynolds said. “So many wonderful people in our community also worked with (my parents).”
The venue brings revenue to the theater through hosting weddings and other large events in a 3,600-square-foot forum. It also provides space for the Negri Learning Center and performing arts students.
Next on his to-do list was creating a permanent site for the Palos Verdes Performing Arts Conservatory.
Seed money came in a few years ago and construction tentatively is set to begin this fall. It will take about a year, his daughter said.
“He never stopped, it was his next vision,” said Moe-Reynolds. “I wish he could have seen it, but he’ll see it from heaven.”
And the community commitment won’t end there when it comes to the Moe family. Both Moe-Reynolds and her brother Steve have been involved in the theater through the years and, along with many others who have worked alongside the Moes, will carry on the vision for expanding the cultural arts on the peninsula and beyond.
“We’re caring for a community asset,” Moe-Reynolds said. “My mom’s and dad’s generation really cared about tomorrow” and the generations to follow.
Moe-Reynolds is currently executive director of the Palos Verdes Performing Arts, the umbrella nonprofit that oversees the theater, conservatory and pavilion.
When it came to true love, Moe-Reynolds said were an ongoing example.
“It was the greatest love story ever lived, he just adored her and she adored him,” she said.
From vacation trips to ballroom dancing and other social activities, they were seldom apart. Her father could still water ski on one ski at the age of 75, Moe-Reynolds said. He also played golf, snow skied, helped coach youth sports and always took a special interest in all of their friends as children, she said.
“He cared about other people,” she said. “When my friends would come to our house he made sure they knew how to swim (before they left).”
Family life, she said was filled with humor and fun.
“He was always there for us,” she said.
He also never missed a family performance at the Norris.
“Whenever I’d perform or sing or whenever my mother would perform and sing, he’d cry the entire time, he’d be so overcome with emotion,” Moe-Reynolds said. “As a man who was so strong and so smart, he was so sensitive when it came to family.”
Her mother’s death five years ago was a difficult transition for her father, who in the past four years was fighting bone cancer, Moe-Reynolds said.
“It’s been so hard for him without her,” she said. “As he said, it was kind of like losing an appendage. … My father could never mention my mother’s name (after her death) without crying.”
One last dance
When her father was honored March 2 at the annual “Reach for the Stars” fundraising gala for the Palos Verdes Performing Arts, father and daughter shared their last dance to Benny Goodman’s familiar swing tune “Sing, Sing, Sing.”
“I always loved dancing with my father,” she said. “At the end of the show, he said he should go home.”
But with video recorder running, he was persuaded to stay for a final dance.
“He twirled me around, he was wearing a white tux,” Moe-Reynolds said.
In addition to his son and daughter, Moe is survived by four grandchildren.
Services will be at 2 p.m. July 18 at the Harlyne J. Norris Pavilion. The family requests donations be made to the Norris Centre for the Performing Arts, 27570 Norris Center Drive, Rolling Hills Estates, CA 90274.