Saralee McClelland Kunde's reputation as a consummate party hostess was burnished at her memorial celebration Sunday with flutes of sparkling wine served to hundreds of guests arriving at the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts.
And after a tribute in words, photographs and music to Kunde, who died Jan. 26 after a 15-month battle with cancer, guests were invited to take home the 6,000 daffodils that lined the auditorium stage.
Wine, shrimp, oysters on the half shell and other hors d'oeuvres were served at a reception for the crowd that nearly filled the main theater.
Kunde, 66, a dairy rancher's daughter who became a noted wine grape grower and tireless advocate for Sonoma County agriculture, was also known as the county's Daffodil Queen for giving away thousands of bulbs to be planted along local roads and highways.
"I've always thought of Saralee when I see daffodils," said Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, who is also a grape grower.
"Agriculture was her passion, her love and her life's work," said Thompson, the first of eight speakers paying tribute to Kunde.
Pat Emery, a Santa Rosa attorney who handled legal affairs for Saralee and her husband, Richard Kunde, recalled her as a "warm, loving, generous" person who was "calm under pressure."
That was an asset, Emery said, noting that "sometimes her husband and his lawyer could get really upset about things."
"She made us all better versions of ourselves," he said.
The Kundes met while both were decorating the Hall of Flowers for the Sonoma County Harvest Fair.
"I got goosebumps," said Richard Kunde, whose reflections were read by Jim Pratt, the best man at their wedding in 1982.
Richard Kunde admitted to being flummoxed when Saralee said she had to go home and feed six kids, realizing much later that she was referring to kittens, not children.
County Supervisor Mike McGuire, who grew up on an Alexander Valley farm and appointed Kunde to the Sonoma County Fair Board, described her as "the heart of the Russian River valley."
The Kundes grew premium wine grapes on their 265-acre vineyard estate on Slusser Road in Windsor, including a private park where they hosted events raising millions of dollars for charity.
Kunde "dazzled us" with her signature floppy-brimmed garden party hats and made morning Starbucks coffee runs for her grape harvest crews, McGuire said.
The Board of Supervisors will celebrate Saralee McClelland Kunde Day at 11:30 a.m. on April 15, awarding her a lifetime seat on the Fair Board, he said.
Growing up on a Novato dairy and later on a Two Rock ranch, Kunde was an award-winning 4-H livestock exhibitor, showing cows, including a Holstein named Echo that would come when Kunde called her name.
Regina Pozzi, a UC Berkeley student, recalled Kunde's influence as a 4-H leader who attended countless ag fairs in California and beyond.
"She always made the worst chores fun," Pozzi said. "Everyone loved to muck out the stalls in the morning with Saralee."
Rod Berglund, a Forestville winemaker and longtime friend, gave away what might have been a secret about Kunde's daffodil campaign, saying: "I don't think Saralee ever planted a single bulb."
Turning serious after a whimsical recall of Kunde's inspiration for his gopher meat recipes, Berglund said, "It's going to take a whole lot more than a village to make up for the loss of Saralee."
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