Dan Haydon was among the nicest human beings you could ever meet.
This is the consensus of many people who have lived in Mammoth and eaten at his restaurant, the Mogul, since the early 1970s and who knew Haydon well.
He died on Feb. 26. The 40-plus year Mammoth resident and businessman was not only a beloved member of the community, he was also an inspirational man whom many revered.
He was a simple man who acted by example – a giver, built of a generosity that knew no bounds. Born Aug. 29, 1928 in Palmyra, Mo., he entered the U.S. Army and was stationed at what is now Vandenberg Air Force Base. After his tour of duty during the Korean War, he earned his A.A. degree in business in Los Angeles City College and a B.A. in education at Los Angeles State College.
After teaching in Okinawa and France as a civilian with the Department of Defense in the early 1960s, Haydon discovered Mammoth skiing and started washing dishes at the Mogul Restaurant in 1971, which was built and owned by Tom Hansen. He took on increasing responsibilities and bought the business in 1973.
Evan Russell met Haydon shortly before he bought the restaurant. It was a cook-your-own steak house where you got your piece of meat and put it on the grill and cooked it yourself. “We were a bunch of young kids working at the mountain for $3 an hour. Dan knew we didn’t make much money, so he was always throwing something extra in for us,” he said.
Early on, the menu consisted of four steaks with daily specials and a small salad bar. People lined up out the door to get in, remembered Carey Sigmen, who bought the Mogul from Haydon in 1998.
The 1970s were the years of hard-living ski bums, making their way in a small town where everyone pitched in. Even in that climate, Haydon stood out as a generous man.
“He was a hard-working, fun-loving person, always there to do things for people,” Russell said.
For instance, he invited Chip Van Atten’s third graders into the Mogul to paint the windows for the holidays and drink some hot chocolate.
And during the devastating Rainbow Fire, he opened the restaurant and fed the firemen when their shifts ended, for free. He was made an honorary MLFD fireman, one of only two, because of his annual hosting of “check night,” when the all-volunteer firefighters would receive their stipend.
During the drought years in the mid-late ’70s, he engineered snow dances for the Chamber of Commerce with which he was long involved. Both Gordon Alper and Bob Kermode recall the wrangling of skis to throw in a barrel and burn to bring on the snow. “Dan was always the guy who got it going,” Kermode said.
Evan Russell, now President and CEO of the Mammoth Lakes Foundation, remembers that Haydon, along with Dave and Roma McCoy, was the first Diamond Partner, because he believed deeply in bringing a college to Mammoth, as well as in theater. Haydon had inherited the money from his mother, and invested it in the foundation. According to an article in the Review Herald in August 1991, McCoy smiled broadly and said, “You just made my day,” when he heard the news.
Haydon believed a college could sponsor education on the ecology of the Eastern Sierra. He wasn’t anti-growth, he said, but strongly believed in carefully planned growth. “We have to consider the visual beauty and the wilderness environment as the reason all of us are here.”
He also had a passion for theater, and would likely be working toward the realization of the MACC theater. This last December, he was happy to receive Dave McCoy’s photos of the new Edison Theatre.
Dan Haydon was civic minded and an enthusiastic, generous supporter of the arts and education. He served on the Mammoth Lakes Foundation’s board of directors, was chair of its arts committee. He received special recognition awards from the Mammoth Chamber of Commerce and the Lions Club for his exemplary service.
In almost a case of history repeating itself, Sigmen started working at the Mogul in 1983 as a busboy and quickly moved to server and before long began assuming managing duties for Haydon. By 1998 Sigmen had bought the restaurant and Haydon officially retired, and was able to hang out for a while and say goodbye to his customers.
For Sigmen, Haydon was like a father. His kids knew him as “Uncle Dan,” who spent Christmas Day with the Sigmen family, exchanging presents, and he treated Sigmen’s children as his own grandchildren. “He was one of the most giving people I’ve ever met,” Sigmen said.
Following his retirement, Haydon enjoyed travels to Asia, Europe, the Caribbean and throughout the U.S. Dogged by osteoporosis he eventually moved to assisted living in Quincy, Ill., in 2008 to be near his family.
For many of his retirement years, Haydon’s friend and caretaker was Tony Lober, who, he said, happened to meet Haydon due to “random acts of kindness.”
“I knew what Dan had done for Mammoth and I admired his generosity,” Lober said. Through Haydon’s frequent falls and surgeries, Lober was able to help him get back on his feet, walk his dog, and just get around.
Haydon came back in 2009 for the 20th anniversary of the Mammoth Lakes Foundation and enjoyed the party at Gary McCoy’s in Bishop. Right after that, Lober said, they came up to Swall Meadows for a party for Mary Canada, who was about to leave for two year’s service in the Peace Corps in Kenya.
“Dan and I became fast friends soon after the death of my husband. He was extremely supportive in an extremely uncomfortable situation. I never forgot his sensitivity and our friendship just grew over the years. My many meals at the Mogul (I was a devoted catfish customer) were always enhanced by Dan’s visit to our table,” Canada wrote from Kenya.
“In May 2009 Dan made a huge effort to attended a going away party for me. Someone grabbed my arm and pulled me over to a window and there slowly progressing up the driveway was Dan, Tony (Lober) on one arm, while he balanced himself with his walker. He struggled up the stairs and we were able to spend quality time together. An evening I will never forget.”
Swall Meadows resident Georgia Lowe remembered Haydon as being very active in the Mono County Democratic Central Committee.
“He was one of the founders, with Andrea Mead Lawrence and Nancy Whitmore,” Lowe said. “We used to meet at the Mogul and had a big party when Bill Clinton was elected. He was a friend to everyone, and he always said it like it was.”
Dan Haydon is going to be missed by a lot of people. “People respected him because of what he gave to the town and wanted to see it get better,” Sigmen said.
Haydon is survived by a brother, Jack (Janice) of Fairview Heights, Ill., many nieces and nephews, and his dog Ruby. He was preceded in death by his parents and brothers, sisters, and in-laws Joe (Ruth) Haydon, Dick (Louise) Haydon, Doris Haydon; and Mary Virginia (Harold) Engelhart, niece May Ann Engelhart, and dogs Shadow, Toby and Cocoa.
Memorials can be send to the Mammoth Lakes Foundation, Edison Hall, 100 College Parkway, Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546.
A celebration of life service will be held at Cerro Coso Community College at 1 p.m., March 20.