Henry Agonia defended higher fees to support state parks.

Obituary: Henry R. Agonia, former California state parks director

Published: Friday, Jan. 25, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3B
Last Modified: Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013 - 2:44 pm

Henry R. Agonia, a career administrator who oversaw California state parks, died Jan. 18 of leukemia, his family said. He was 70.

Starting as a part-time park maintenance worker in Southern California in the early 1960s, Mr. Agonia rose to be a statewide figure in parks and recreation. He was parks chief for the city of Glendale when Gov. George Deukmejian appointed him in 1987 to be director of the state Department of Parks and Recreation.

He led efforts to manage natural resources and facilities at parks, campgrounds, beaches and historic sites amid growing attendance and declining state funding. He defended fee increases as officials sought to make parks self-sufficient.

He stirred up controversy in 1989 with public comments suggesting that state parks facilities should play a role in promoting Christianity. He apologized after a legislator said the remarks were inappropriate for a public official and called for his resignation.

"He knew that when he took the job that there would be lot of responsibility and controversy," said his daughter Kristy Furlong. "But he was honored to be chosen. He spent his whole life in parks, and he always had the parks' best interest at heart."

Mr. Agonia worked as a consultant after leaving state government in 1992. He served as an administrator for park districts in Bakersfield, Woodland and the Rio Linda-Elverta community. He ran an environmental planning and communications firm and was executive director of the California Association of Recreation and Park Districts.

The son of immigrants from the Philippines and Mexico, Henry Richard Agonia was born May 20, 1942, in Garden Grove. He graduated from Cal Poly Pomona and earned a master's degree in environmental planning from California State University, Northridge.

He worked in parks for the cities of Garden Grove and Fountain Valley before joining Glendale in 1971.

"He used to drive the Glendale float in the Rose Parade," his daughter said. "It would be freezing cold, and he'd drag us out there to watch."

A Sacramento resident, Mr. Agonia is survived by his wife, Marlene; children, Kim Richards, Kristy Furlong and Kyle; mother, Rose; brothers, Bob and Muggs; sister, Darlene; and eight grandchildren.

A service is set for 10 a.m. today at East Lawn Memorial Park, 43rd Street and Folsom Boulevard, Sacramento. Donations in memory of Mr. Agonia may be made to California State Parks Foundation.

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