Next summer's Sonoma County Fair won't be the same without Donna Koch.
It's hard to imagine the fair at all without the Santa Rosa woman, who first attended the event in 1936 — the year it debuted — and did not miss it again for another 75 years.
Koch, who celebrated her 76th birthday in September, died of ovarian cancer Monday at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital.
Koch was born in 1936 and raised on her family's Forestville ranch, where she helped her parents raise dairy cows.
She graduated from Analy High School in 1954 and earned a degree in home economics from UC Davis and a teaching credential from San Jose State University.
Her career as an educator did not last long.
"When she did her student teaching, she figured out she didn't like teaching," said her daughter, Diana Stornetta, who lives at the family ranch.
Donald and Jean Winkler brought their daughter to her first Sonoma County Fair in a clothes basket the year she was born.
Koch said the event always brought back memories of her father tending to dairy cattle, bantam chickens and Hampshire hogs.
Koch earned her own share of ribbons from showing Jersey cattle at the fair as a 4-H member from Forestville in the 1940s and &‘50s.
She was a 4-H leader for 35 years and for 16 years worked in the fair's premium and livestock offices.
She passed on her love of the fair to her four children, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. A fourth great-grandchild was born the day before Koch died.
"I think family meant more to Mom than anything in the world," Stornetta said.
She described her mother as an outgoing and spiritual woman who was talented at making crafts. Koch once opened a business, Barnyard Boutiques, to sell her creations, which also are on prominent display at her home.
A week before she died, Koch and her family gathered at the Forestville ranch to remember what it was like to grow up there.
"I'm a country girl through and through," Koch said in a 2011 interview that honored her longtime patronage of the fair on its Diamond Jubilee anniversary.
Koch recalled when fair animals were housed in old white barns at the south end of the fairgrounds, and camping in a tent during the event in a prune orchard near where the Chris Beck Arena is located today.
The Sonoma County 4-H honored her in October as a friend of the group.
Besides Stornetta, Koch is survived by three other children: Randy Morrison of Forestville and Jeanne Guerinoni and Lori Soto, both of Santa Rosa.
A celebration of Koch's life is planned for 1 p.m. on Dec. 21 at First United Methodist Church on Montgomery Drive in Santa Rosa.
The family requests that donations be made to Sonoma County 4—H, 133 Aviation Blvd., Suite 109, Santa Rosa, 95403.
— Derek Moore