Jerry Tannhauser

Jerry Tannhauser, a longtime volunteer and public works organizer for fire safety in Tuolumne County, died Friday, March 26 at the age of 78.

Jerry Tannhauser, the long-time former president of the Highway 108 Fire Safe Council, U.S. Army veteran and a retired Bay Area transplant to Tuolumne County who generated a volunteer public works network from Railtown to Columbia, died on March 26 in a Modesto hospital after collapsing in his home.

He was 78 years old.

“He was very family oriented, community oriented. Sometimes a little grumpy too, but he liked to get things done possibly in the quickest way. He didn’t like a lot of nonsense,” said his wife, Sandra Tannhauser, 73, of Columbia. “I’m just going to miss him. The community really lost someone who was proactive in keeping this county fire-safe. He loved volunteering, but fire safety for this community was his passion.”

Sandra Tannhauser said the cause of death was believed to be a blood clot, likely in the heart.

The chief contribution Jerry Tannhauser made to the community was his volunteer efforts to fire fighting and public safety in Tuolumne County, said former Cal Fire Division Fire Chief Jeff Sanders. 

Among his most notable contributions were grant procurements for fuel reduction, managing fire safety projects (such as removing brush and bark-beetle infested trees) and fixing dysfunctional public safety technologies. 

“Most of all, he was a really good guy who dedicated his time to the citizens of Tuolumne County,” Sanders said. “We are so far ahead from other counties because of what Jerry and Barry Rudolph did.” 

Rudolph told The Union Democrat this week that Jerry Tannhauser was interested in participating in the Highway 108 Fire Safe Council, a nonprofit organization that works to reduce wildfire hazard and the devastating effects of wildfires in the county, which was founded in 2001-02 a few years before he moved here.

His contributions were enumerable and extensive, Rudolph said, and often involved organizing work crews out of the now-closed Baseline Conservation Camp to remove flammable fuels from rural areas.

“He did the work of probably four or five guys,” said Rudolph, a retired battalion chief from Cal Fire in Twain Harte. “He was a very kind person. He didn’t have a lot of patience or tolerate a lot of excuses and stalling and what not. He wanted to get things done.” 

According to a county document, a certificate of recognition for Jerry Tannhauser’s retirement, he was a member of the Highway 108 Fire Safe Council for 13 years. He was president from 2006 to 2012 and was a “key partner in completing the Tuolumne County Community Wildfire Protection Plan.”

“During Mr. Tannhauser’s tenure he personally sought out grant funds which enabled the council to treat thousands of acres within Tuolumne County and was the project manager for fuel reduction projects.” 

Jerry Tannhauser was born in New York City and went to California at the age of 15. He met Sandra while they both worked at Pacific Telephone, and they dated for a year and a half before their marriage in 1968. They were married for 53 years, and their primary residence was in San Mateo. 

For most of his life, Jerry Tannhauser worked in purchasing from Silicon Valley companies such as Apple Computers, Raytheon, and Ford Aerospace. He was in the Army and Army Reserves for 34 years, most recently returning to active duty at Fort Lee in Virginia after 9/11 to prepare potential combat deployments on how to set up field kitchens. 

While they lived in the Bay Area, the Tannhausers had a cabin in Crystal Falls. In 2004, they moved to Columbia in retirement. 

“I really think he was just driven. He wanted to be a part of the community and help the community,” Sandra Tannhauser said. “He was getting grants for firefighting, getting neighborhoods or subdivisions to clean their properties up so they didn’t have big problems. He would spend hours and hours on that kind of thing.”

His volunteer interests were multifaceted as well in Tuolumne County, acting in various functions at Columbia State Historic Park and Railtown 1897 State Historic Park over the years.

“He didn’t like dressing up or anything like that, he liked projects,” said Kim Baker, former park superintendent. “He was really in the ham radios. They were always dying and we needed to replace them all. He went and researched it and found us some radios… if a radio had a problem, volunteers would call him and he would fix it.”  

Baker described him as a person that was solution-oriented and tough, always willing to fix a problem if he knew how. 

“He was the kind of guy, instead of complaining about something, he would try and get it fixed,” she said. “The community, whether they know it or not, they really should appreciate what he’s done to make the community safer.” 

Jerry Tannhauser is survived by his wife, his son David and his grandson, Jason.

Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at or (209) 588-4526.

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