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Modini, 89, ensured 1,700-acre ranch would stay wild

  • 11/7/20111: B1:
    5/31/2009: B1: AT HOME: Jim and Shirley Modini have lived on their ranch east of Healdsburg for 66 years. Under an agreement with the conservation group Audubon Canyon Ranch, the 1,725-acre ranch, a sprawling mix of pine forest, oak woodlands and year-round creeks, will be kept as a sanctuary for native plants and animals.
    PC: Jim and Shirley Mondini have lived 66 years on their ranch off of Pine Flat Road above Healdsburg. The 1,725 acre ranch, a sprawling mix of pine forest, open oak woodlands and year around creeks is being donated by the family to the Audubon Canyon Ranch, a conservation group whose mission will be to keep the land as a sanctuary for native plants and animals. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat)2009

Shirley Modini, who lived her entire married life on a ranch in the rugged Mayacmas range and bequeathed it as a wilderness sanctuary, died there Tuesday.

Modini, 89, died at home off Pine Flat Road, northeast of Healdsburg, on a 1,725-acre property described as "impressively wild" and a haven for bears, mountain lions and eagles, as well as a native plant habitat.

Her passing was "calm and measured ... in her cozy room on her beloved ranch," according to Judy MacDonald Johnston, her neighbor and trustee.

Modini and her husband, Jim, who died in November at the age of 94, raised cattle and sheep and claimed to have never left the ranch for more than 10 days total since the mid-1940s, when Jim came back from the Coast Guard.

They sold their development rights a dozen years ago to the county Open Space and Agricultural Preservation District.

Despite getting $1 million for the "forever wild" easement placed on their property, they continued to live frugally.

They arranged to donate their land and estate to the Audubon Canyon Ranch, a conservation group that also manages the Martin Griffin and Cypress Grove sanctuaries in Marin County and the Bouverie Preserve near Glen Ellen.

The Modinis never had children, but had a deep love for the land and wildlife, the animals Shirley Modini called "the little people."

They delighted in the bird life and rigged a camera to catch glimpses of black bear and mountain lion. "They were devoted to keeping the ranch as wild as could be," Johnston said.

"At the core they loved the ranch and all the animals and plants in that charmed world," said Skip Schwartz, the retired executive director of Audubon Canyon Ranch.


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