Westminster PD mourns loss of long-time volunteer Max Poper

By Jessica Peralta

Max Poper was a man of many passions.

These passions led him through a long and varied career, taking him from First Airborne Ranger in the U.S. Army to industrial engineer working on Apollo, to becoming a top executive at Neutrogena, and most recently assisting the Westminster Police Department for the past 25 years as a volunteer in the forensics unit.

Westminster PD volunteer Max Poper was an avid fly fisherman and traveled worldwide fly fishing. Photo provided by Harriet Poper

“Max had a zillion billion hobbies,” said Harriet, his wife of 62 years. “He couldn’t sit still.”

As the city mourns his passing on Oct. 20, 2017, at age 84, those who knew Max are left with happy memories of a man who contributed to both his country and his city.

“He researched and purchased all of their cameras, and all of their computers. He set up their lab,” Harriet said about his time at the Westminster PD Forensics Department. “Max is there. Everywhere you turn, that’s Max.”

Max and Harriet met while attending the University of Illinois, and they married soon after graduating. Max had been in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) while in college, and soon after their marriage he successfully completed Army Ranger training. Max served in the U.S. Army, both actively and in the reserves, for eight years.

Max Poper, a longtime volunteer at the Westminster Police Department, with his wife, Harriet. They were married 62 years. Photo provided by Harriet Poper

Max earned his degree in industrial engineering, and learned from his friends about some interesting jobs in California. So, following his service, he, Harriet, and their daughter left Chicago for the West Coast, where he was hired by Autonetics Electronic Systems, a division of North American Aviation, to work on advanced navigation systems. The family moved into a new apartment in Baldwin Hills, where they lived for five years before moving to a new home in Westminster.

While at Autonetics, Max worked on the Apollo mission.

He was later hired by National Cash Register (NCR Corporation), a computer and electronics company, where he developed new computer manufacturing technologies.

“He helped them develop their computers, and their computer program,” Harriet said.

Max Poper was a longtime volunteer at the Westminster Police Department, working with the forensics unit. Photo provided by Harriet Poper

He also worked at Lockheed Electronics (now part of Lockheed Martin) before landing a consulting job at Neutrogena.

“They were setting up their new factory because they were moving from where they were,” Harriet said. “They loved Max.”

The company made Max an offer to stay full time and he accepted. Max was at Neutrogena for nearly 20 years, and became one of the company’s vice presidents when it eventually went public.

“He did very well, making soap,” Harriet said.

Max Poper with his wife, Harriet, of 62 years. Poper volunteered with the Westminster Police Department. Photo provided by Harriet Poper

At one point, Max even managed to combine his two career paths: soap and space. He designed a bar of unscented soap that would not float free in zero gravity, and Neutrogena became the official soap of the first U.S. space station, Skylab. Max retired from Neutrogena at age 55.

Harriet said Max became involved with the Westminster PD after learning about the Citizens’ Academy at a city event. After he finished the academy, “and learned all about the city, all about the departments, all about everything Westminster,” he was asked if he was interested in working as a volunteer.

“He got involved with forensics,” Harriet said. “He worked with them, he was happy, and everything was wonderful.”

Daughters Toni Poper, from left, Marla Guttman, their parents Harriet and Max, and daughter Cheryl Maholchic. Max Poper volunteered for many years with the Westminster Police Department. Photo provided by Harriet Poper

Whether at work, as a volunteer, or at home, Max kept busy. As an avid fly fisherman, he traveled all over the country and all over the world, fly fishing. He also enjoyed taking photographs, building cannon and train models, and traveling.

“Last year we were in Japan,” Harriet said, adding that they had been planning a new trip this year. “When the kids were little, we camped. We had tents, we had trailers.”

He was also setting up to create a new model, and getting the engine, paints, and brushes together.

“He had to have something to work on all the time,” she said. “And he never stopped.”