South Valley water master Dick Schafer has died

“Mr. Tule River” Richard Schafer is dead at the age of 95 after 70 years of improving water management in the southern San Joaquin Valley

VISALIA – Richard L. Schafer died last week after leaving behind a 70-year legacy of sustainable water infrastructure in the southern San Joaquin Valley including a dam renamed in his honor to solidify his life’s work.

“Dick” Schafer died in his home in Visalia on July 1 at the age of 95. During his career Dick was a highly sought-after expert in the field of water resource management, serving over 50 years as the Tule River Water Master and Secretary for the Tule River Association. To many, he was known as Mr. “Tule River”. In recognition of his efforts to improve flood control and water supply in the Lower San Joaquin Valley and the Tulare Basin, Dick received the Flood Management Association (FMA) Award for Excellence, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) and the prestigious Commander’s Award from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for Public Service. He was still working full time as the water master for the Tule River Association as recently as last fall.

Dick was born to Ruby Ellen and Herman Arthur Schafer on Oct. 8, 1925. He was raised on a farm in South Dakota during the depression, when times were tough. Dick had the best “true life” stories about crops, chores, hard weather and hard work. He graduated from Cresbard High School in 1944 and enlisted in the Army, joining thousands of 18 and 19 year old boys serving in the armed forces fighting WWII. During the U.S. liberation of the Philippines in February 1945, Dick served in an Army intelligence unit as a scout/pathfinder with the 130th Regiment of the 33rd Infantry Division, surviving three amphibious landing beach assaults. After completion of the Philippines Campaign, he received advanced training for amphibious operations and was on a troop ship heading North for the invasion of Japan when the war ended. After the cessation of hostilities, he landed in Japan and served with occupation forces in Nagasaki, Kobe and Osaka. Dick was discharged from the Army in 1946.


Richard Schafer

After returning from the war, Dick attended college on the GI Bill. In 1951 he graduated with honors from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, located in Rapid City, completing a degree in civil engineering.

While attending college in Rapid City, he met and married Dorothy Ann Davis in 1950.

After graduation, Dick was employed by DuPont De Nemours, Inc., supervising construction projects throughout the United States, moving his young family 13 times in eight years. In 1959 he was hired by Althouse and Strauss Engineering in Porterville, Calif., to design and construct water distribution systems in Tulare and Kings Counties.

Dick established R.L. Schafer and Associates in Porterville in 1961 and later added offices in Tulare and Visalia. In 1973 the Schafer Family moved to Visalia. Dick and Dot were married for 59 years. After Dot’s death in 2009, Dick married Mary Lou Mattern in 2010.

Dick believed his greatest accomplishment was the approval and ongoing construction of the enlargement of Success Dam, adding 28,000 acre-feet of new water storage, doubling the level of flood protection, and increasing the water supply for the city of Porterville and downstream farming operations. To honor this 30 year effort, a bill proposed by Representative Kevin McCarthy, was approved by the House of Representatives and Congress, and signed by President Donald J. Trump on August 9, 2019, changing the name of Success Dam to the Richard L. Schafer Dam.

In addition to his engineering career Dick developed and oversaw the construction of 881 West Morton Office Park (Porterville), Summit Enterprises Office Park (Porterville), Green Acres Professional Center (Visalia), Suburban Professional Office Park (Visalia), Border Links West Estates (Visalia), and Demaree Square 1 and 2 (Visalia). Dick was a founding member of Mineral King National Bank (Visalia).

A member of the “Greatest Generation” Dick will be remembered for his integrity, perseverance, tireless work ethic, and positive attitude. He will be greatly missed by his family, friends and work associates.

Dick is survived by his wife Mary Mattern Schafer, and his daughters Shelley Loescher (Ed), and Sue Schafer Tharp (Michael).

Dick was able to attend and enjoy many events held in his honor in recent years. He and the family wish these occasions to serve as his memorial.

In lieu of flowers donations may be made to The Visalia Fox Theatre, Richard L. Schafer Auditorium Restoration Fund, 308 W. Main St., Visalia, CA 93291

The Fresno State Foundation to support student scholarships for Lyles College of Engineering—Civil Engineering, Water Recourses. Please note that the gift is in memory of Richard L. Schafer. Gifts may be made payable to “Fresno State Foundation” and mailed to CSUF Office of Advancement Services, 5244 N. Jackson Ave. M/S KC 45 Fresno, CA 93740; or visit

To plant trees in memory, please visit the foundation’s Sympathy Store.

Start typing and press Enter to search