Richard Kunde knows that little was more pleasing to his late wife, Saralee McClelland Kunde, than to see young people discover agriculture and then make it their life’s work — right in, or at least not far from, Sonoma County.
Rich Kunde is advancing the cause closest to Saralee’s heart with a gift of $1 million to support agriculture education in the county and to create opportunities for students to get a taste of land-based occupations through internships at local dairies, farms, vineyards, wool-growing operations, ranches and other agricultural enterprises.
Kunde said Thursday it’s an inspired idea for young people to be able to work a summer testing and exploring whatever it is they think they would like to do in local agriculture.
“It’s a joint idea,” he said, and one of its sources was his late wife, who succumbed to cancer in 2014 at the age of 66.
“It was Saralee’s idea to promote Sonoma County agriculture in any way that could be done,” Kunde said, adding that he feels blessed to fulfill another of her dreams.
Kunde made his gift to the Sonoma County Fair Foundation, which supports the county fair and fairgrounds. Last year the nonprofit completed on the fairgrounds the $3 million ag-education building that’s called Saralee & Richard’s Barn.
In addition to his $1 million gift, Rich Kunde, who for decades worked alongside his wife propagating grapevines and growing wine grapes, donated more than $300,000 to the barn project.
His new contribution will create the Saralee and Richard Kunde Education Fund. The fair foundation will invest money from that fund in initiatives that teach local youngsters about Sonoma County agriculture and the types of careers that sustain and expand it.
Central to initiatives to attract young people to work in the region’s agriculture will be a summer intern program.
“This donation will cement a relationship between the Sonoma County Fair Foundation and ag businesses, to create a wide range of internships by which local students have the opportunity to appreciate careers in agriculture,” Kunde said.
“Our goal is to create the next generation of ag leaders,” he said.
Kunde said dollars from the Saralee and Richard Kunde Education Fund will help local farmers, ranchers and all manner of agricultural producers to afford to take on summer interns.
“We’ve already got people willing” to host interns, he said.
Pat Emery, president of the county fair foundation, said Kunde’s gift will do much to strengthen the message to young Sonoma County people interested in agriculture “that they don’t need to move away to have good careers.”
Kunde, Emery said, is “widely known for his generosity, and this confirms it once and for all.”
Kunde’s late wife, widely praised as one of the great ambassadors of Sonoma County agriculture, spent part of her childhood on the Two Rock dairy owned and worked by her parents, Robert and Lillian McClelland.
As a member of 4-H she raised and showed Holsteins. One of her first paying jobs was in the premium office of the Sonoma County Fair, where a promotion put her in charge of the prize competitions and the junior livestock auction.
It was at the fair that she met Rich Kunde, part of the Kunde family of grape growers and winemakers that settled in Kenwood more than 100 years ago. They married in 1982.