PALM SPRINGS — City leaders who have worked closely with the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians are mourning the passing of Tribal Council Vice Chairman Larry N. Olinger.

He died Monday, July 15. He was 80 years old.

One of the city leaders who knew him best is longtime Palm Springs City Manager David H. Ready.

David Ready

Palm Springs City Manager David H. Ready

“Over the years, Mr. Olinger’s kind and friendly smile would make you feel at ease, and he could always seem to make me laugh –  I deeply respected his wise advice and perspective on a wide range of issues,” Ready told Uken Report.  “Larry’s passing saddens us all, yet he has left his life’s work to remind us of what can be accomplished when we devote ourselves, like he did, to enriching the community through many good works and a caring spirit.”

Cathedral City City Manager Charlie McClendon did not know Olinger real well,  the two had been in meetings related to regional issues and the tribe’s proposed development in Cathedral City.

City Leaders Mourn Passing of Larry Olinger

Charles McClendon

“I can say that what impressed me was his obvious concern to do what would be best for the people of his community,” McClendon told Uken Report.

In a prepared statement, Mayor Mark Carnevale, said he and his municipal family are saddened to learn of Olinger’s death.

City Leaders Mourn Passing of Larry Olinger

Mayor Mark Carnevale

“Since the 1960s, he has played a vital role in the successful development and governance of the tribe.  We, at the City of Cathedral City, hope the fond memories and the lasting legacy of Vice Chairman Olinger bring comfort to his family, tribal leaders and members, and the countless lives enriched throughout his decades of service.”

City Leaders Mourn Passing of Larry Olinger

Mayor Pro Tem Geoff Kors

Mayor Pro Tem Geoff Kors said, “In my interactions I always found him to be very thoughtful.  His work on behalf of the Tribe has had a significant impact on our city and my heartfelt condolences go out to the Tribe and his  wife, family and friends.”

Vice Chairman Olinger was a dedicated, caring leader who made us all better, Tribal Chairman Jeff L. Grubbe said in a prepared statement. “As a distinguished leader of this Tribe, he always asked the tough questions to ensure every single decision we made as a governing body was for the betterment of this sovereign tribal government.  Today, we hold him and his wife Susan close to our heart.”


Vice Chairman Olinger served on Tribal Council as the Vice Chairman since September 2012. 


Vice Chairman Olinger was born on Oct. 14, 1938.  He grew up in Palm Springs and later in Orange County where he loved spending time at the beach and playing sports such as baseball, basketball, football and track. Throughout his life, he spent many years breeding and racing thoroughbred horses and had an ongoing love for them. He spent the early part of his career working in the defense industry. 


He was always proud of his Native American heritage.


He became interested in tribal issues and tribal government in his early 20s.  “I was drawn to the idea that, if you dedicate yourself, you can make a real positive difference,” Olinger said during an interview for the Tribe’s magazine, Me Yah Whae, where he described himself as honest, dedicated and open to growth.  “But you continue to learn, as long as you stay open to growth, and lifelong learning is vital.”


He was first elected to Tribal Council as a Tribal Council Member in 1961. He subsequently served as Secretary/Treasurer in 1969, and as Chairman of the Tribal Council in 1970-71. Throughout his life, he served in every tribal council position.


He also served on numerous tribal boards, and was the first Chairman of the Agua Caliente Development Authority when it was established in 1989.  He was especially proud of the work he and other tribal leaders at the time dedicated to establishing gaming as a tribal business enterprise. 


“I can look back on when I was a (Council) member in 1961 and think, ‘We had so little then.’ What evolved after that – what brought us up to date – was the recognition of our sovereignty and gaming. It changed the Tribe in that we’re able to provide for our members now, the way they should be provided for, and it has made a tremendous difference in our lives,” he said in a 2014 article in Me Yah Whae.


Vice Chairman Olinger served on the Board of Directors for the Native American Rights Fund as well as the Governing Board for the State of California Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy, which works to protect the natural and cultural resources of the Coachella Valley.


Vice Chairman Olinger is survived by his wife Susan Olinger. His decades-long marriage to his wife is what he often referred to as his proudest achievement.


Image Sources

  • David H. Ready: City of Palm Springs
  • Charles McClendon: City of Cathedral City
  • Mark Carnevale: Mark Carnevale
  • Geoff Kors: Geoff Kors
  • Larry N. Olinger: Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians