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Doctor 4-H

Dr. Preston owned a two story building that still stands today at the corner of Little Lake and Lansing Street in Mendocino, across from the then Preston Mansion. The building was originally built for Independent Order of Foresters. Later it was occupied by the OddFellows. It is still referred to today as the OddFellows Hall. On a recent visit to Mendocino the hall was being used as an art gallery. On October 15, 1953 Dr. Preston deeded this building and property to the Mendocino County Farm Bureau.

Another document is dated October 19, 1953 which is signed by two directors of the Fort Bragg-Mendocino Farm Bureau. It is also signed by the president and secretary of the Mendocino County Farm Bureau. The document specifically states that the deeded building now referred to as the Fort Bragg-Mendocino Farm Bureau Building be used for the benefit of the Farm Bureau and the Mendocino Spartan 4-H Club. The document goes on to outline the care and custody of the building and again documents the use exclusively for the Farm Bureau and the Mendocino Spartan 4-H Club.

I still am active in 4-H events in Mendocino County. As the years go by I have had a desire to learn just what inspired Dr. Preston to leave a building for the use of Mendocino Spartans 4-H Club. I never met Dr. Preston; however he must have had strong feelings about the Mendocino Spartan 4-H Club. A recorded document dated October 19, 1953, states, “It is mutually agreed that the real property is a gift from Russel W. Preston and its full intent shall be, and the Farm Bureau Center shall see that this intent is carried out that said real property be used exclusively and permanently by Fort Bragg-Mendocino Farm Bureau and Mendocino Spartans 4-H Club.”

The Spartan 4-H Club was strong and active under the leadership of Louie and Peg Freitas from Caspar. Louie was also the director of the annual 4-H summer camp.

In the Summer of 1952 and 1953 the Mendocino Spartans 4-H Club held a 4-H Fair in the town of Mendocino. It was held before the two Mendocino County Fairs; the Ukiah Fair in August and the Boonville County Fair in September. The Spartan’s fair was open to all 4-H members in Mendocino County. There was an open field across from Dr. Preston’s home where livestock pens were set up for animals and at least one year a tractor driving contest was held. All of the out of town 4-H members slept outside next to livestock pens. In addition, other events such as dress review, skits, and entertainment were held at the Kelly-Owens building located at the corner of Ukiah and Lansing Street. One year a horse race was set up down the hill from the school for a go-cart contest. Spartan member Bobby Bishop entered the contest but his cart came apart going down the hill. One year Louie led a school bus full of 4-H members to San Francisco to attend the Junior Grand National Livestock Show and Rodeo. The group stayed overnight in San Francisco and returned to Mendocino the next day. Claire Farnsworth, a member of the Point Arena 4-H Club tells me that she went with the group and that 4-H members from other clubs also joined in on the trip.

Along this time in 1954 the Mendocino County 4-H community was informed that the University of California Cooperative Extension Service that oversees the Mendocino County 4-H program, was removing Louie and Peg Frietas as Mendocino Spartans 4-H club volunteer club leaders.

By this time the Spartans were using the Preston building for meetings. The University officials set a night meeting date at the building to discuss the removal of the Freitases. The second floor was a large open room. The staircase is located at the back of the building. Rows of chairs were set up for those of us who attended. In front of us was a head table. Behind the table sat several State 4-H officials from Oakland. Supporters from all around the country attended but to no avail. The Freitases were removed with no clear reason. Leaders and members alike were shocked that the Freitases were no longer 4-H leaders.

I would not let this happen without some formal ending. I scraped together some funds and had a nice silver tray inscribed with nearly all of the names of the current county 4-H members on it. The tray was presented to the Freitases on County 4-H Achievement night in the Fall of 1954.

That was the last of my 4-H contact with the Freitases and with the old Mendocino Spartan 4-H Club. But by this time the Mendocino County Farm Bureau and the Mendocino Spartans 4-H Club owned the Preston building.

* * *

Dr. Russell Preston died in 1954 after deeding the Odd Fellows Hall to the Mendocino-Fort Bragg Farm Bureau and the Mendocino County Farm Bureau for the use of the Mendocino Spartans 4-H club in 1953. The club continued to use the building until 1964 when the Farm Bureau leased out the building to Mr. Warren Zimmer. The rental income provided financial support for the 4-H program. The terms were that the club could still use the upstairs portion of the building for meetings.

In the 1970s the Mendocino-Fort Bragg Farm Bureau was disbanded. This caused a different turn of events. The building was historic. Older buildings need constant maintenance. The Mendocino County Farm Bureau as the legal owner assumed the responsibility of the building. The building was being leased out to Zimmer and the rental income somehow supported not only the Mendocino Spartans club but the countywide 4-H program. George Hollister tells me that he could not get any Mendocino Village 4-H volunteers to fully support the local 4-H club and its new asset, the Preston Building. At the County Farm Bureau level its board was equally at a loss as to how to oversee a building in the town of Mendocino. Most of the Farm Bureau board members were from inland Mendocino County. The disbursement of funds was widened to support too halftime program reps to be hired in Mendocino County. One program rep on the coast and one inland. The Preston fund's revenue would pay for half of the costs for these county program reps. Somewhere in the 1990s this was changed to one full-time program rep for the entire county. Linda Edgington tells me she started in 1997 and fills this position today. Half of her salary and benefits come from the Preston funds.

In 2002 the Mendocino County Farm Bureau and the University of California Cooperative Extension agreed to sell the present building and use the proceeds of the sale to continue to support the 4-H program in Mendocino County. George Hollister also tells me it took five years to sell the building. A possible contributing factor was that a disagreement arose between Zimmer and the Farm Bureau as to the length of the lease agreement. There was also an incident of a woman falling on the cement outside the building and some litigation.

At some time later the Mendocino County Farm Bureau Board of Directors decided to turn over the Preston Funds that came from the sale of the building, some $900,000, to the Regents of the University of California. Another document was written outlining the agreement between the Farm Bureau and the UC covering the areas of dispersement.

With the University of California Cooperative Extension County Director in total control of the Preston Funds, the Mendocino Spartan 4-H club involvement was almost obliterated. By agreement the club is to receive $1000 per year. The balance is to be used for the countywide 4-H program.

So still today the County Director of the Cooperative Extension service of the University of California has full control of the annual revenue of the funds generated from the sale of the Preston Building that was specifically intended for the use of the Mendocino Spartans 4-H club.

(Katy Tahja contributed to this article.)

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