Harley Knox12:50 AM PDT on Thursday, October 27, 2005
By JONATHAN SHIKES / The Press-Enterprise
Harley Knox saw the Inland Empire's potential, from the ground to the sky.
A turf grass farmer and farm equipment manufacturer-turned-real estate developer and civic leader, Mr. Knox died Tuesday of bone cancer. He was 68.
For years, the longtime Moreno Valley resident had been part of a private business partnership, converting 400 acres just south of March Air Reserve Base into a commercial airport and distribution center called March Global Port. A staunch supporter of the former Air Force base and its personnel, Mr. Knox wanted to help replace the hundreds of jobs lost when March was realigned in 1996. Most recently, he and his partners helped shipping giant DHL open a distribution center there.
"He was one of the kindest, fairest, most focused human beings," said Riverside County Supervisor Marion Ashley, who met Mr. Knox in the 1970s and was a close friend. "That man could focus on a problem like two people together. "In a tough situation, he was one of those folks who not only had advice, but he would put his shoulder to the wheel and help solve the problem," he added.
A businessman from age 12, when he cleaned chicken coops in the San Gabriel Valley and sold the fertilizer to large farms, Mr. Knox formed his first company in the 1950s, growing lawn grass and selling it across Southern California. Later, he began developing equipment to collect and process dichondra grass seed. In 1958, he moved the Knox Seed Co. next to the former March Air Force Base, where he also produced grain, turf and sod seed. He sold the firm in 1976.
The next year, he started Knox Manufacturing Co., which developed and patented highspeed produce harvesters and other farming tools. In 1983, he founded Harley Knox & Associates to help developers work with cities and counties to build projects. In the 1980s, Mr. Knox was instrumental in Moreno Valley's push for cityhood -- it was incorporated in 1984 -- and was an unsuccessful candidate for the first city council. In 1985, he was appointed to the city's first planning commission. "He was a leader. He was one of those folks that just stepped up," said Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, who last saw Mr. Knox at the beginning of the summer. "If you had a problem, he was willing to volunteer his time to take care of it."
Over the years, Mr. Knox became more involved in real estate development in the I-215 corridor. In 1987, he resigned from the commission as his business dealings increasingly interfered with his ability to vote on major projects. With Bob Wolf, president of Germania Corp, he also sold and developed a 50-acre site in Romoland where Calpine Energy Corp. and General Electric Co. plan to build an 800-megawatt power plant.
Wolf, who is also a March Global Port partner, said Mr. Knox was proud of what they had done at the former base. "He was very tenacious at getting results and trying to treat people as they liked to be treated themselves," he added. Economist John Husing cited Mr. Knox's impact on the region's future. "The standard of living of this area will ultimately go up, in part because of the kind of work he was doing," he said. "He was one of those very distinguished people that, at your best, you would like to think you could emulate," Husing added. "He always put you at ease." In addition to his business dealings, Mr. Knox was active in local politics, contributing money and hosting fundraisers. Rep. Mary Bono, R-Palm Springs, called Mr. Knox a friend and supporter to both her and her former husband, the late Congressman Sonny Bono. "I have been constantly inspired by his love and dedication to this valley," she said.
Mr. Knox was a member of numerous organizations, including the Valley Group, which lobbies local officials on development issues; the Inland Empire Coalition, a collection of booster groups; and the Riverside Community College Foundation. In 1995, he received a distinguished citizen award from the Air Force's Air Mobility Command at the Pentagon for his efforts on behalf of March. In 1996, he was named citizen of the year by the Moreno Valley Chamber of Commerce.
An avid boater, Mr. Knox was appointed by former Gov. Pete Wilson as commissioner of the California Boating and Waterways Commission. Mr. Knox was a business colleague and friend who always inquired about family before anything else, said Greg Diodati, managing partner for March Global Port. Mr. Knox is survived by his wife, Donna; daughter, Victoria; sons, Bryan and Aaron; and four grandchildren. A memorial service is pending. Mr. Knox's family didn't wish to comment for this story, but released a statement with some background. "Harley Knox saw the Inland Empire as a major economic center for the Pacific Rim as clearly as the sun coming up in the morning," Aaron Knox wrote in the statement. "How it becomes that is up to us."
Staff writers Gail Wesson, Claire Vitucci and Kim Trone contributed to this report.
Reach Jonathan Shikes at (951) 368-9552 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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