Sheri Klittich, who developed programs to keep Ventura County's agricultural roots alive as the first administrator of a state-run trust that operates a demonstration farm near Santa Paula, died Nov. 20, a day after she turned 53.
Klittich died at her home in Fillmore after a long battle with ovarian cancer and the autoimmune disease scleroderma, said a son, Jeff Klittich.
For nearly 12 years, Sheri Klittich was the program administrator of the Hansen Trust, established in 1993 when Thelma Hansen -- the last surviving member of a pioneering Ventura County farming family -- gave $12 million to the University of California to promote local agriculture. Hansen died in 1992 at 95.
In 1997, Klittich helped orchestrate the trust's $1.5-million purchase of a 27-acre farm and oversaw its transformation into a research and education center.
"Our ultimate goal is to keep agriculture a viable industry in Ventura County," Klittich told The Times in 2001. "We don't want to have the Hansen Trust agricultural museum here surrounded by development."
She laid the groundwork and developed the initial concept of how the trust would be utilized, said Doug Peters, center superintendent for the trust. "She felt that she was entrusted with Thelma Hansen's money, and since she knew how frugal Thelma was, she felt a responsibility to spend the money wisely," he said.
As a child, Klittich learned to embrace nature on frequent Girl Scout camping trips and on hiking and backpacking adventures with her brother Dan.
Through the trust, she shared her appreciation for the outdoors by teaching an increasingly suburban county to understand the area's $1 billion-a-year agricultural industry.
One of her major educational accomplishments was a program that trained hundreds of teachers how to set up school gardens. The effort helped make Ventura County a leader in the state's school garden movement, The Times reported in 2002.
Schoolchildren regularly tour the farm, which grows crops for demonstration and research.
"We want to increase teachers' knowledge and awareness of agriculture so they can pass that on to their students," Klittich told The Times in 2001. "It's all about increasing agricultural literacy in our county."
She was born Sheri Alice Rudd on Nov. 19, 1955, the youngest child of Searle Rudd, an audiovisual engineer, and his wife, Virginia.
Because Klittich was the 1,000th baby born at Arizona's Tucson General Hospital, the family received free diapers and other merchandise, recalled Dan Rudd, one of her three brothers.
She moved with her family to Canoga Park when she was in elementary school and graduated from Chatsworth High, where she met Bob Klittich. They married in 1976 and had three children before divorcing in 2000.
She followed her future husband to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where she earned a bachelor's degree in soil science in 1978. Two years later, she received a master's degree in agronomy from the University of Missouri.
When she returned west, she worked for the U.S. Soil Conservation Service, consulting on irrigation efficiency, erosion control and fire remediation in Ventura County.
In 1994, she joined the Hansen Trust and was a "very quiet but powerful leader," her brother said, before illness forced her to retire in 2006.
Since being diagnosed with cancer more than three years ago, Klittich had been intent on living life, her brother said. She remarried in 2005, honeymooned on an Alaskan cruise, took two trips to Utah and learned to snorkel in Mexico.
Klittich's survivors include her husband, Chris Johnson; her children, Jeff, Kenny and Kristen Klittich; her mother, Virginia Rudd; and her brothers Steve, Dan and Dale Rudd.
Nelson is a Times staff writer.