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Oakdale’s Finest

I was fortunate some 50 years ago to be a member of the California Agricultural Leadership Program. I joined 29 other upcoming agriculture leaders for a two-year pro-bono program that included seminars at four agriculture colleges in California, a 14 day national trip, and a 21 day international trip. In total all 30 of us spent around 60 days together during the two years. 

Needless to say, we all became close friends. The 30 of us were from all over California. Twenty-four of us were directly involved in agriculture production and the remaining six were in agriculture support management. 

I was involved in Class 4 of this program that now has been operating for 50 plus years. Anytime you throw 30 people together, some friendships develop stronger than others. Such is the case with Lloyd Stueve and myself, and two or three other participants. Not that I was not friends with all of the others, it just happened that a few of us developed a closer bond. 

Lloyd’s background was the dairy business. His family operated Alta Dina Dairy in the Chino Valley of the Los Angeles area. The dairy milked 5,000 cows three times a day. The milk was all non-pasteurized, which is a special way of handling milk as it comes from the cows. Lloyd’s position was to raise younger cows until they were ready to produce milk. Lloyd and his family moved from Chino to Oakdale where he started his own organic dairy. His two boys were involved in the day-to-day operation of the dairy. They milked around 1200 cows three times a day.

Lloyd’s true love was horses and wagons. He would hitch up his horses and participate in parades, festivals, or any other type of gathering that included horses and wagons. Lloyd was known for his constant participation and support of all community activities. He would think nothing of taking a month-long trip that ended in Pahrump, Nevada. One time he told me he was planning a yearlong wagon trip across the US-Canada border from west to east. I asked him just what his wife, Nancy, thought about this idea. His reply was typical, “Oh Bob, she is warming up to the idea.”

Last year Lloyd invited me to his newly acquired ranch in Ravendale. Lloyd thought nothing of sending out postcards with a new picture of him on one side and a short note next to my address. The card in question invited me up for a weekend along with the other Class 4 members of the Ag Leadership program. 

I had never heard of Ravendale, but Lloyd’s postcard’s directions deemed doable. Just drive up to Susanville. Take 395 up to Ravendale. You will see a sign that says Dodge Ranch. Follow that road out to the east 13 miles and you will see the house on the right-hand side. 

The entire drive seemed a little long for me to drive in one day. I elected to drive from my Santa Rosa home to Reno and stay overnight. 

The next morning, I followed Lloyd’s directions. Came to Ravendale, saw nothing but a post office, but there was a sign pointing to the Dodge Ranch, which was my destination. I zeroed the odometer and headed east 13 miles. Soon I was driving on a dirt road. I went 13, 14, 15 miles, and no house on the right. In fact, NO house anywhere. So I turned around and drove back, calculating where the house should have been. Then I drove back to Ravendale. By this time it was 3:30 pm. I said, “To hell with this. I’m going back to Susanville.” 

I had a fraternity brother from Susanville. His nephew is currently a County supervisor and I happened to have his phone number. As soon as I could get cell service, I called the nephew and got the name of a motel in Susanville. The next morning I got up and drove back home to Santa Rosa logging 835 round trip miles. 

I would never have tried this trip if Lloyd had not become such a close friend in the past 50 years. The friendship extends both ways. When our house burned down in the terrible fire of 2017, Lloyd and Nancy immediately drove over to see us and take us out to breakfast.

Around January of this last year Lloyd was involved in a horse-wagon accident. He wound up in the hospital. After weeks he was able to come home. Shirley and I drove to Oakdale to see Lloyd last week. A fellow from Stockton, who was also in our Class 4, and his wife joined us. 

Lloyd is now house bound, spending about 95% of his time in bed. He uses a ventilator and is on oxygen. His right arm is paralyzed and he cannot speak. He knew we were coming to visit him and Nancy told us he had been excited all week, knowing that the four of us were coming to see him on Saturday. 

Words cannot express the shell of a man we saw who we have known and loved for 50 years. My Stockton friend and I did all of the talking. We sat outside in the sun. He has a caregiver and two daughters who provide around the clock assistance. We only stayed for a short time. The prognosis is that Lloyd has developed ALS. Having served in Nam, there also seems to be some connection to being sprayed with Agent Orange herbicide. 

It was a short visit, but a good one. I am not good at visiting sick, old friends. Even writing this article brings tears to my eyes. Enjoy and visit your old friends while they are still healthy.

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