Resident Profile: Fred Day
“Ever since the launch of Sputnik I in 1957, I was fascinated with the space business,” Prairie Ridge resident Fred Day recalls. “I knew that’s what I wanted to do, and I was lucky enough to get a job doing just that.”
Fred was born in New York City and, due to his father’s job with the Pennsylvania Railroad, moved about every two years all over the east coast.
The family was in Pittsburgh when Fred finished high school. He went on to Penn State University, earning his undergraduate degree and then his Master’s in Engineering Mechanics.
An ‘Out of this World’ Career
In January of 1966, Fred moved to Los Angeles to work for North American Aviation. While with the company, he worked on the Apollo Saturn V program. The Saturn V was a Heavy Lift Vehicle and was then the most powerful rocket ever flown successfully. It was used in the Apollo program for the manned moon landings.
While in LA, he got a call from friends inviting him to go to Denver and work for Martin Marietta in the Aerospace Division. He stayed with Martin in Denver to work on the Skylab program. After two years together, Martin received a contract to supply engineers to Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which is federally funded by NASA, for work on the Viking Program.
“Martin kept telling me ‘We want you to work at JPL for us,’ but I was reluctant because I’d just bought my first house and didn’t want to move,” Fred explains. “Finally they convinced me, which was a good thing because
working for JPL was the best thing I could have done. It’s a great place to work.”
With that, Fred was back in Los Angeles. He went on to work on the Viking program, which led to the first successful landings on Mars. He did analytical work on Viking but also structural testing, vibration testing and similar activities. He then stayed to work on the Voyager Program which sent two spacecraft past the outer planets and are now out of the solar system and still generating data 45 years after launch.
Eventually, Fred moved back to Colorado and back to Martin Marietta, where he finished his career working on a Shuttle project (STS-27) and Titan launch vehicles before retiring in 1998.
“My main recreation throughout my adult life was rock climbing,” Fred recalls. His passion began when he was working at JPL. He was on a mountain rescue team for a couple of years and took some practices at vertical ascent, which spurred his initial interest. A co-worker at JPL was also interested, so they started climbing together. His most memorable rock climb was the northwestern face of Half Dome in Yosemite Valley, a 2,200-vertical foot effort that took three days.
Fred also developed a passion for mountaineering. What’s the difference, you ask? Mountaineering broadly refers to the act of summiting peaks using a variety of skills such as steep hiking, rock climbing, ice climbing or skiing. Rock climbing, on the other hand, makes use of ropes, gear, hands and feet to climb difficult rock faces, with the end goal not necessarily being the summit.
Fred has climbed 25 peaks above 14,000 feet, including the two highest peaks in Mexico, which are the third and fifth highest peaks, respectively, in North America.
His climbing adventures also brought him to Mount Rainier outside of Seattle, which reaches 14,417 feet, three times.
“Rainier was interesting because it has a lot of glaciers and it’s a very different kind of experience,” Fred shares. “Most of the mountains in Colorado and the two in Mexico are not highly technical–just elevation. But Rainier is totally different; it’s very steep, it has big glaciers, it’s technical and you should stay roped up the entire time.”
One of his Mount Rainier climbs is a particularly harrowing tale. They were ascending Liberty Ridge, which has a reputation of being the hardest and most dangerous regularly climbed route on the mountain because of the committing nature of its route, the remote location, and its sustained steep angle, according to the National Parks Service.
“We planned it out ahead of time and figured it would take us three and a half days,” Fred explains. “We packed enough food for about four days and lots of fuel for our stoves to melt ice and snow for water.”
“I’m very happy here. I got lucky. I visited a few other places and I was most impressed by a combination of things here at Oakwood.”
However, problems started soon into their adventure, beginning with a closed road to the trailhead due to a bridge being replaced. That meant they needed to start at a lower elevation, adding onto their overall climb. Their climb was stretched to six days, and needless to say, they were famished by the time they got back to their car.
“It was around 10pm and we came upon a diner that was closing soon,” Fred recounts. “They took one look at us and invited us to stay.”
Another adventure Fred treasures was his trip to Nepal in 1991. He and his companions did a trek up to the Everest region, which took eight days going in and three days coming out.
"I couldn’t believe the mountains; they’re just remarkable,” Fred says. “The last place we stayed on the way up was a tea house just under 17,000 feet near the Everest Base Camp area. We then hiked up a ridge to Kala Patthar at 18,519 feet for a beautiful view of Mount Everest. It was really something.”
The Next Adventure
Fred moved to Madison in 2016 to be near his daughter and granddaughter before eventually moving to Oakwood Village Prairie Ridge in 2021.
“When the pandemic hit, I was sitting in my house most of the time just trying to stay busy,” Fred recalls. “I decided it was time to go someplace where I can have a social life and meet people.”
He chose Oakwood to pursue his next adventure.
Though he’s had to give up climbing, Fred stays active in other pursuits. This past spring, he purchased a three-wheel recumbent bike. He’s now an active member of the Prairie Ridge Pedal Pushers. Fred also took up oil painting prior to moving to Oakwood, and has many of his pieces hanging on the walls of his apartment home.
“I’m very happy here. I got lucky. I visited a few other places and I was most impressed by a combination of things here at Oakwood. First, the Community Center–the big, open spaces with lots of natural light appealed to me. Other places I visited felt almost claustrophobic. I also liked the life lease concept; the details of the plan made sense to me. When I was shown the apartment home I ended up choosing, I liked the view and the floor plan, and I was able to choose the flooring and paint. It felt ‘like me’ right away.”
Fred at home in his apartment