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Arthur L. Lafranchi, a prominent Sonoma County attorney, dairy farmer, grape grower and community leader, died Sunday in a Santa Rosa hospital from heart and kidney failure. He was 76.

Lafranchi juggled a dual career as a farmer and lawyer for the past half century, enjoying the mixture of people that the two vocations offered.

He also was a leader in a number of charitable organizations, serving as director and president of the Community Foundation of Sonoma County, director and past president of United Way and president of the Petaluma Rotary Club in 1975.

But his passion was agriculture, with his family roots in the dairy industry in Marin and Sonoma counties. His great-grandfather, Charles Martin, a Swiss immigrant, settled in Marin County in 1855 to establish a dairy.

Lafranchi grew up and worked on the Nicasio dairy farm operated by his parents, Fred and Zelma Lafranchi.

"It was in his blood," said his son Ken Lafranchi of Santa Rosa. "He grew up in the dairy industry. He loved being around cows."

Last year, Lafranchi was inducted into the Sonoma County Farm Bureau Hall of Fame. He was recognized for his efforts to bridge the gap between urban and rural residents by educating them about agriculture and farm life.

He also worked to nurture a new generation of agricultural leaders as a member of the board of directors of the nonprofit Farm Bureau Foundation of Sonoma County.

"Art was never in 4-H, Art was never in FFA," said Max Mickelsen, a colleague and friend for more than four decades. "Everything he learned about agriculture he learned from his father and his own two hands. He totally believed in educating youth in agriculture."

For decades, he invited students to his ranch, next to his home at the western end of Piner Road, to explain the challenges and rewards of farming.

"Art exemplifies the meaning of lifetime achievement to agriculture and community," Lex McCorvey, executive director of the Farm Bureau, said last year in honoring Lafranchi for the Hall of Fame. "He has been a passionate advocate for agriculture and always willing to teach others about the importance and realities of the dairy business."

Even witnessing a cow's birth could be transcendental for Lafranchi.

"He was very religious. Watching the birth of a calf was a big thing for him," his son said.

As an attorney, Lafranchi specialized in estate planning, trusts and real estate.

In 2010, he was honored by the Sonoma County Bar Association for his "career of distinction."

"He was very modest about his own works," his son said.

Lafranchi was assured and comfortable in his own skin and put others at ease.

"He was an intelligent guy and has a great sense of humor," said his son. "He genuinely cared about people and talked to people about their life, allowed them to talk about what they wanted to talk about."

Mickelsen called Lafranchi the epitome of a mentor — a wise and loyal adviser.

When Lafranchi needed to move hundreds of dairy cows from his ranch in Petaluma to a new property on Piner Road about 30 years ago, he didn't have to ask his friends to pitch in, they just did.

After a 3 a.m. milking, more than 10 farmers loaded 10 to 12 cows on each of their trucks and ran load after load down Stony Point Road and into Santa Rosa.

"Art is one of those persons, you never thought about it. &‘Hey, he's moving cows, what time we have to be there?' " Mickelsen said. "These were all of his friends. That is how we moved the dairy from Petaluma."

Born in Petaluma, Lafranchi attended a one-room school in Nicasio before transferring to St. Anselm Elementary School in San Anselmo.

He was student body president at Marin Catholic High School, graduating in 1954, then majored in political science at Santa Clara University. He graduated from University of San Francisco Law School in 1962 and opened his office the next year in Petaluma. Eventually, he moved his practice to Santa Rosa.

In 1976, he and his wife, Diane, opened their dairy farm at the edge of Laguna de Santa Rosa, where they also built their home.

On the ranch, originally bought by his father in 1962, they milked up to 450 dairy cows and grew 150 acres of corn that was made into silage for the cows. A few years ago, they diversified into the wine business, converting 61 acres of the property into chardonnay and pinot grape vineyards grown under the Russian River Valley appellation.

In addition to his son Ken, Lafranchi is survived by Diane, his wife of more than 55 years; sons Richard Lafranchi of Santa Rosa and Jeff Lafranchi of San Luis Obispo; daughters Debbie Merizon of Eldorado Hills and Teri Alvarez of Forestville; sister Estelle Moretti of Petaluma; brother Edward Lafranchi of Livermore; and 12 grandchildren.

A rosary will be said at 7 p.m. Thursday at Parent-Sorensen Funeral Home in Petaluma. Funeral services are scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday at Resurrection Church in Santa Rosa.

In lieu of flowers, donations are suggested to Catholic Charities, or a local food bank.

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com.