That it is the form of a wave rather than a bicycle may have come as a surprise to some, but Brett Bixby says the swell is indeed an appropriate figure to honor his late brother, Mark Bixby, an avid bicyclist and biking advocate who perished in a plane crash along with four other men last year. Brett was one of about 100 in attendance at the Aug. 10 unveiling of the sculpture that memorializes his brother. The sculpture, called “The Forming Wave,” is now a fixture outside Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool.
Brett said it is actually the best representation of his brother’s life because Mark loved waves and they are expressions of potential and regeneration. He described the sculpture’s wave as one at its peak, brimming with energy, direction and grace, driven by the forces of the sea.
On the morning of March 16, 2011, a private twin-engine Beech Craft King Air Turbo-Prop plane crashed on the runway at Long Beach Airport during takeoff. Aboard the plane were: Mark Bixby, a member of one of Long Beach’s founding families and a leading bicycling enthusiast; Tom Dean, a developer who lived in Naples; Jeff Berger, a Manhattan Beach resident who was also a developer; Bruce Krall, a banker and Orange County resident; and Kenneth Earl Cruz, who was the plane’s pilot. Also on board was Mike Jensen, a Naples resident and president of the real-estate company Pacific Retail Partners. Jensen was the only one to survive the accident, and he was among those at the memorial’s unveiling last Friday, leading the group in a prayer.
“Mark always enjoyed the ‘now,’” Jensen said. “May we serve you, God, with the way Mark reached out and found common ground for everything Mark did for others. Mark truly found a way to make all things we did positive.”
In his prayer, Jensen mentioned Mark Bixby’s active lifestyle and recounted numerous experiences the two had shared throughout California, including camping, kayaking and biking– even an instance of dancing on top of a moving locomotive with several others during a trip from Mammoth to Long Beach. “Let us remember what a force he was,” Jensen said. “Let this wave…remind us of Mark’s strength, fluidness and the shape of his consistency in all he touched.”
Martin Howard, a friend of the Bixbys, spoke after Jensen, saying that his responsibility at the memorial’s dedication was to “thank everybody that had a hand in” making the sculpture a reality, a group of individuals which he described as “a long list.” Howard explained that the memorial had to be approved by five different departments: the Department of Parks, Recreation and Marine; the Marine Advisory Commission; the California Coastal Commission; Public Works; and the billing department.
The primary person Howard thanked was the artist Patrick Vogel, who designed the sculpture, but his appreciation speech began with a bit of a roast of the sculptor. “He drove me insane– absolutely insane,” Howard said of Vogel. “He never stops talking, and he complains every chance he gets.” Regarding the brick on which the sculpture sits, Howard said that, after the art piece had been mounted, it didn’t meet Vogel’s liking. “So, about six days ago, we tore it all off and started all over again,” he said.
However, Howard then praised Vogel for being the driving force behind the memorial, as well as his perfectionism. “He pushed everybody hard. He wanted to make it perfect. If you know anything about him, everything he does is perfect. He’s an engineer. It’s got to be precise. It’s got to be actual. And so he’s very passionate about what he does, and he’s very passionate about this project.”
Howard cited Long Beach City Manager Patrick West as the second driving force behind the project. West was there, as part of the crowd, as was Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster, 3rd District Councilmember Gary DeLong (whose district includes where the memorial is located), Vice Mayor Robert Garcia, 2nd District Councilmember Suja Lowenthal, as well as numerous members of the Bixby Family. After he concluded his prayer, Jensen asked Vogel to step up and discuss the sculpture.
“Great men leave great impressions. Great men do more than what is asked. Great men lead by example. Great men are humble and respectful. We are here today to remember Mark Bixby. He is a great man,” Vogel said. “Mark had a way with people, and I truly learned a lot from him. Once, I went on and on about a contractor I disliked. I said a lot of bad things about him. Mark was right there listening to me. After I was done, Mark looked at me, real calm, and said, ‘Maybe he’s had a bad day. Maybe he’s married to the wrong woman.’ Anyway, Mark always saw the goodness in people. He always gave you the benefit of the doubt, would never judge you, nor would he be disrespectful.”