top of page

A look at past recipients of the Senior Farmer award

The 36th annual Senior Farmer of the Year dinner will be hosted by the Madera Chamber of Commerce in the St. Andrew's Ballroom of the Madera Municipal Golf Course at 7 p.m. Thursday. Mitch Lasgoity will be lauded. Below is a brief look at past honorees.

Sherman Thomas (1981)* Born in 1902 in Conway, Ark., Sherman Thomas settled in Madera in 1928 after leasing a half section of land. By 1933, he started the Sherman Thomas Ranch growing barley, corn, alfalfa, melons, beans, sugar beets, peas, oranges, almonds, cotton and grapes.

Henry J. Bitter (1982)* An active member of the Madera County Farm Bureau, Henry Bitter served as president for two years, on its board for 13 years, and as the District 9 director for the California Farm Bureau Federation for six years. He farmed wine and table grapes.

Gino Petrucci (1983)* In 1911, Gino Petrucci was born in a house on Avenue 14 and Road 24 1/2 in Madera. He and his brother Raymond Petrucci farmed as G and R Petrucci, growing grapes, cotton, grain, onions, potatoes and alfalfa.

Walter Rosskopf (1984)* Born in Ohio, Walter Rosskopf moved to Southern California and was college educated. He bought what was known as the Boomerang Ranch on Avenue 12 near what is now the Madera Community College Center.

He sold his crop through walnut brokers, but also sold nuts in smaller quantities to the public from the huller on Avenue 12.

Aubrey K. Baker (1985)* The son of cattleman O.L. Baker, Aubrey Baker grew grapes, cotton and grain. He farmed as many as 1,000 acres at a time. He served on the Madera District Fair board for four years, as chairman of the Madera County Farm Bureau, and as president of the Yosemite Winery, Farmers Gin Company, and Farm Home Loan Administration.

Everett Garner (1986)* Born in rural Madera in 1911, this lifelong county resident had farmed for 59 years by 1986. He grew grain, cotton, hay and raised cattle, managing 1,038 acres. He spent eight years on the Madera County React Team, more than 50 years as a member of the Madera County Farm Bureau and 30 years in the Madera County Cattlemen’s Association.

Floyd Nelson (1987)* Born in Upland, Neb., in 1902, the family of Floyd Nelson moved to Humboldt County after World War I and later relocated to Lodi. He started a dairy with 35 or 40 cows and it grew to 600 head. He grew potatoes, sweet potatoes and seed carrots, any crop that might be successful. He also grew alfalfa and cotton.

Lionel Rogers (1988)* Lionel Rogers had farmed for 50 years and worked 737 acres. His crops included cotton, alfalfa, wheat, almonds, silage and grain corn, oats and vetch, potatoes, sunflowers and tomatoes. He served as Madera County Farm Bureau president for two years.

Ben Coulthard (1989)* Born in Madera County in 1921, Ben Coulthard attended Webster School, joined Boy Scouts and graduated from Madera Union High School in 1939. Coulthard’s ag career included growing wheat, corn, alfalfa, grapes, pistachios and almonds. He also raised beef cattle, farming as many as 5,000 acres.

James Eldred ‘J.E.’ McKinney (1990)* Born in 1914 in Smith County, Tenn., J.E. McKinney came to Madera in 1933 and, with his brother Buddy, farmed barley and wheat.

He bought a ranch in Eastern Madera County in the late ’40s and raised cattle on 3,000 acres. He also sold seed grain in bulk instead of by the sack. He and his brother built a feedlot on the ranch.

George Andrew (1991)* Born in Kerman in 1924, George Andrew’s family moved to Madera, where he attended Ripperdan School and graduated from Madera Union High School in 1942. He has raised cotton, alfalfa, sugar beets and wheat with his holding going from 40 acres when he started to 4,500 acres of primarily almonds, grapes and pistachios.

John Sordi (1992)* Born in 1912 in Madera, John Sordi came from Italian immigrant parents who were brought under the Miller and Lux Bracero program, which offered transportation to the U.S. in exchange for a year’s employment. Sordi farmed five different kinds of wine grapes, cotton, sugar beets, early tomatoes and potatoes.

Ed Sagouspe (1993)* Born in 1913 in Fresno, Ed Sagouspe came to Madera County in 1925. His farming career in the Ripperdan District began in 1944, with his brothers Frank and Ernie farming 900 acres of cotton, grapes, sugar beets, corn, wheat and alfalfa. Their huge dairy operation, which included ownership of Quality Dairy, bottled and provided home delivery of milk, juice and fruit punch, and produced butter, cheese, ice cream and eggs.

Franklin Secara (1993, Hon.)* Madera Irrigation District was founded in 1920 with one of the originators being Joseph A. Secara, uncle of 1993’s honorary Senior Farmer, Franklin Secara. He ultimately worked his entire career at the Madera Irrigation District. When MID made its first delivery of crop water in 1945, Secara was its lone ditchtender.

Elsie Buchenau (1994)* Born in Fresno in 1907, Elsie Buchenau lived in Firebaugh, where her family worked for Miller and Lux. The family moved in 1912 to Madera. She and her husband ran thousands of Polled Hereford cattle on their ranch where she kept the books and cooked for the ranch hands hired to work the cattle. She became the first female Senior Farmer selection.

Norman Dill (1995)* Born in Nova Scotia, Canada, in 1912, Norman Dill moved to California in 1919. The family moved to Chowchilla in 1929, bought a 60-acre parcel and started a dairy. He and his wife bought 60 acres on Road 8 at $30 an acre to grow cotton.

Henry Massaro (1996)* Born in 1926 in Madera County, Henry Massaro raised 400 dairy cows on 480 acres in 1996 and lived in Chowchilla. During his career, he grew almonds, corn, alfalfa, beans, wheat, oats, and forage mixture for feed raising dairy cows and replacement heifers.

He was awarded the DHIA lifetime achievement award and the Chowchilla FFA Blue and Gold Award.

Joe Galleano (1997)* Joe Galleano was born and raised on an 80-acre farm, west of Howard School at Road 20, purchased from the Fletcher family by his father and two uncles in 1928.

In 1949, the Galleano family grew cotton, corn, black eye beans, potatoes, wheat, barley and oats, farming 3,000 acres from Firebaugh to the Adobe Ranch at one time or another.

Robert T. Houlding, Sr. (1998)* Robert T. Houlding Sr. farmed in the Howard-Wilson Colony, next to the old Howard School, on property his family bought in 1891 and which he and his sister still owned at the time of his death. Houlding returned to Madera in 1946. In 1976, they expanded their farming operation to the west side in the Cantua Creek area, where they raised cotton, almonds, tomatoes and wheat.

Dino Petrucci (1999)* Dino Petrucci was an ag teacher, Madera High School vice principal, Madera Unified School District trustee, Farm Bureau president, and FFA faculty adviser.

He and his brother, Enzio Petrucci, grew grapes, peaches, cotton, alfalfa, cattle, dairy cows, pigs, figs, olives, goats, sheep and pumpkins.

Elvin Davis (2000)* Born in 1921 in Kerman, Elvin Davis moved to Madera at age 3 and attended Madera schools. He spent 44 years in the dairy business. While running his dairy, he put in almond trees and planted watermelons, corn, alfalfa, grapes cucumbers, squash, lettuce, turnips, string beans and egg plants.

Alfred Russell (2001)* Born in Biola, Alfred Russell lived and farmed in Madera for nearly 71 years. 
He raised replacement heifers, cotton, corn, alfalfa and watermelons in his early farming years, but in later years he was exclusively a raisin farmer.

He also sold almond wood for use in fireplaces.

Oliver Espinola (2002)* Born in 1921, Oliver Espinola moved from Caruthers with his wife, Virgie, and their five young children to Chowchilla to begin a dairy operation. He served on the Danish Creamery and the Challenge Dairy Products boards for almost three decades, serving as chairman of the Challenge board for three terms.

Will Gill, Jr. (2003) Born in Exeter in 1922, William Gill Jr. grew up in Long Beach, and at age 15 bought and sold cattle for his dad at the Los Angeles Union Stockyard in Vernon. In the early 1940s, Will Jr. joined his father’s ranching operations full-time until he moved to Madera as a newlywed in 1943. Shipping cattle and horses created a need for a trucking company, which he operated from 1950 to 1987.

Jack Schnoor (2004) Born in 1932, Jack Schnoor began farming with his brother Don in 1955. The brothers worked together until 1983. Crops grown included almonds, cotton, corn, alfalfa, barley, wheat, oats, grapes, tomatoes, potatoes, dairy and beef cattle. The brothers split their assets and then continued farming with their own sons.

Richard Johnson (2005)* Richard Johnson was the son-in-law of the 1987 Senior Farmer, Floyd Nelson. Johnson and his son Karl farmed 1,940 acres in north Madera County, growing and managing primarily pistachio orchards.

Charles Faso (2006)* Born in 1916 at the Faso Ranch on Road 29, Charles Faso grew up under the care of his parents, Vince and Grace Faso, who also farmed in Madera. A 1935 graduate of Madera Union High School, Faso has raised grapes, cotton, alfalfa, corn, tomatoes, pears, apricots, kiwi, chickens, pigs, sheep and goats.

Vernon Martinazzi (2007) One-time dairy owner Vernon Martinazzi brought up his three children in the tradition of farming. Crops grown include cotton, corn, alfalfa, almonds, black-eyed peas, raisin grapes, wine grapes, orchards of assorted fruit and almonds. His livestock enterprises included dairy cows, beef cattle and pack animals.

Billy McKinney (2008)* Born in Tennessee as the 10th of 11 children, Billy McKinney started grain farming in 1951. He once grew up to 10,000 acres of grain and owned 1,700 head of cattle.

He later added trucking to his grain and cattle business.

Albert Cosyns (2009) Albert Cosyns lives on the same ranch he bought after arriving in Madera in the late 1950s. Cosyns has grown almonds, alfalfa, black-eyed beans, barley, cotton, corn, grapes and wheat.

Johnny Deniz (2010) Johnny Deniz was the Madera Irrigation District board president from 1972-1987 and the owner of Deniz Packing and sold to Stellar Distributing.

Deniz grew tomatoes, cotton, grain and garlic. Also grew almonds, fresh and freezer varieties of stone fruit, table and wine grapes and alfalfa.

Millie Meders (2011)* Milenda Gaumnitz Meders was born in 1935 in Chowchilla. She graduated from Chowchilla Union High School in 1953.

Meders farmed 640 acres of cotton, irrigation pasture, corn, winter forage, alalfa and almonds and raised both dairy and beef cattle.

Sarkis Sahatdjian (2013)* Sarkis Sahatdjian co-founded Victor Packing, Inc. in 1963 with his late brother Haig. It is one of the Valley’s largest grape dehydration, packing and shipping houses.

He was born in 1920 in Istanbul, Turkey and moved to the United States in 1923.

Ray Pool (2014) Ray Pool was a crop duster and almond farmer. At one time, Pool had more than 200 acres of almonds while he was crop dusting with Ray Pool’s Dusting.

He attended Eastin-Arcolo School and Madera High School. He also flew B-17s in World War II. He and his wife Audrey have been married for 50 years. Ray is still involved in farming with 75 acres in grapes and 75 in almonds.

Kenneth Leach (2015) A former Navy radioman, Leach was born in 1926 and arrived in Madera in 1933. When he returned home from the Navy, his father offered him 100 acres to farm and took the opportunity.

He sold the 100 acres and used it to buy 320 acres growing cotton. He later bought a dairy, selling mill from his 60-head head to Danis Creamery in Chowchilla, but sold the cows four years later.

He and his wife Bernice still have 20 acres of table grapes on their home place.

John Yakligian (2016) Yakligian’s family survived the holocaust and lived in Earlimart, farming raisins. Yakligian joined the U.S. Army in 1950 and served two years in the Korean War, serving as a surgical nurse.

He worked a lot of extra shifts to save up money to buy an engagement ring for her future wife Lois.

Yakligian helped found the Hume Lake Christian Camp where they serve 7,000 meals over the summer.

He once farmed 2,000 acres of 11 different vegetable seed crops and raised chickens. He has downgraded his farmng to chickens, almonds and raisin grapes.

*- indicates deceased.

bottom of page