100-Year Tribute : Pioneers: The California Women for Agriculture will honor three farm families for their century of community contributions.


Three Ventura County families who have farmed in the area for more than 100 years will be honored in Saticoy tonight for their contributions to the county.

James Meikle Sharp began farming in Saticoy in 1876. Rudolph E. Haase arrived in Bardsdale in 1888. And Battista Vanoni settled in the Conejo Valley in 1889.

Their families are being honored by California Women for Agriculture for their contributions both to agriculture and to community life over the past century, said Robin Dick, chairwoman of tonight's tribute.

The three families were instrumental in the development of the county's agricultural industry, said Alberta Word, former librarian at the Ventura County Historical Society Museum and now reference librarian at Foster Library.

"All three were extremely active families who took the lead in projects in Ventura County and did what needed to be done to improve agriculture here," Word said.

James Sharp, an Ohio-born and educated man who crossed the country by oxcart, settled with his wife and son in the county at age 32 as a part-time schoolteacher and full-time farmer.

He planted lima beans and walnuts and later added lemons and oranges. Sharp soon founded and became the first president of the now defunct Saticoy Walnut Growers Assn.

His daughter, Grace, became the county's first woman physician in 1899. She donated her medical services for about five years until she quit her practice "on account of the night work," she wrote in a 1958 book called "Yesterday."

Dr. Grace, as she was known, and husband John Thille, whom she married at age 50, donated money to begin construction of Santa Paula Memorial Hospital. They also contributed to the Catholic Church and Villanova Preparatory School in the Ojai Valley.

The Thilles moved into the large Victorian Sharp family house on Telegraph Road when Grace Sharp Thille's parents died. They had no children of their own but raised the four children of a brother who died.

Patricia Alderson, whose mother was raised by Dr. Grace, now lives in the family house where she spent many holidays and summers.

"It was just like coming to Grandma's house," she said of her visits to her great aunt, who died in 1979 at 103.

Farther east in the county, German immigrant Rudolph Haase helped bring an invaluable element to Bardsdale farming: water. He helped form the Southside Improvement Co. to bring water from the Santa Clara River to Bardsdale, a rural community that still exists just south of Fillmore.

A thrifty man, Haase built a combination home and barn using leftover wood from the flume used to carry the water from the river, grandson Paul Haase said. Paul Haase said his grandfather built the house in the old German style with a barn for animals on one side, hay storage in the middle and residence for the family on the other.

"We finally tore it down in 1955 or 1957," Paul Haase said.

In 1908, after farming had proved profitable for the Haases, Rudolph and wife Emelie built a large two-story Victorian house in Bardsdale to accommodate them and their six children.

Their grandson, Paul Haase, a farmer who now lives in the house with his own family, tells of an extended family of 11 grandchildren of Rudolph and Emelie who were raised within a few miles of each other and who remain close today.

"Grandad treated all the grandchildren alike," Paul Haase said. "We were all raised with that love and devotion for family."

Like the Haases, Vanoni family members remain active in Ventura County agriculture. They follow the tradition set up by grandfather Battista Vanoni, who arrived in Pasadena in 1890 looking for work. He took a series of short-term jobs as a farmhand and woodchopper until he saved enough money to lease 40 acres in El Rio in 1894.

He then sent for wife Mariana and 7-year-old son Attilio, who he had left behind in their native Italy.

By 1910, the family bought 100 acres on Walnut Avenue east of Ventura and moved an old house and barn onto the property. By 1920, the family had prospered enough to build the two-story, six-bedroom house that stands on the property today.

Vanoni, who had six children with Marianna and four more children with his second wife, is credited with one of the county's first flood control and soil conservation projects.

Siro (Bob) Biocca, the only son of Battista Vanoni's daughter, Elizabeth, lived in the house with his grandparents as a boy when his mother divorced.

"Grandfather was a very kind man," Biocca said. "He helped people all the time--too many people. Sometimes he got swindled out of his money. But he was very honest and very well-liked."

Biocca has lived in the house since 1970 with his wife, Mary.

The Sharp, Haase and Vanoni families follow 25 other pioneer farm families in Ventura County honored by the local chapter of the California Women for Agriculture, a statewide organization set up for political lobbying and community education.

Others honored in previous years by the organization include the families of: W.J. Friend, Nathan W. Blanchard, Robert P. Strathern, J. Christian Borchard, W.D. Hobson, O.J. Goodenough, Dominick McGrath, Lloyd Butler, George Briggs, George Crane, E.A. Duval, William Hughes, John Mahan, Benjamin Warring, Peter Donlon, John Cummings, Charles Barnard, Louis Pfelier, John Pinkerton, Juan Camarillo, William Shiells, Samuel Edwards, Michael Clark, Frank Jauregui and Jacob Maulhardt.

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