Longtime Point Reyes rancher Joseph 'Joey' Mendoza dies at 71

The Tomales High grad was known for his cowboy hat, his ability to make friends and his loyalty to his alma mater.|

Point Reyes dairy rancher Joseph H. “Joey” Mendoza Jr. was known for his black cowboy hat, his ability to easily make friends and his loyalty to his alma mater, Tomales High.

Mendoza died Thursday at his home near Petaluma after battling pancreatic cancer. He was 71.

Friends recalled his bigger-than-life personality and his huge heart for others.

“He approached life in a full-blown, enthusiastic way,” said Charlie Barboni, a good friend since childhood. Barboni, the manger of the Marin County Fair, will speak today at Mendoza’s funeral service.

A Republican dairyman, Mendoza managed to forge a lasting relationship with Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer from her days as a Marin County supervisor.

Similarly, he served as a bridge builder for the farming community with environmentalists, elected Marin County leaders and parks officials at the Point Reyes National Seashore, said Tim Tesconi, executive director of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau.

“He liked people, and that came through,” Tesconi said.

Mendoza’s grandfather arrived in the United States from the Azores, began dairy farming at Point Reyes and in 1919 purchased two ranches near the seashore’s historic lighthouse.

Descendants still operate both ranches under leases with the Point Reyes National Seashore.

Mendoza was born Dec. 30, 1943, in Woodland. He grew up on B Ranch, a windswept, treeless grassland between Drakes Bay and the Pacific Ocean. On clear days, visitors there can see San Francisco and, at night, the lights atop the Golden Gate Bridge.

As a boy, Mendoza attended a one-room schoolhouse on the ranch. His classmates included children of farmers, farmworkers and the keepers of the lighthouse. Mendoza went on to Tomales High, where he graduated in 1961 after playing for the school’s football, baseball and basketball teams. He later graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.

After college, he returned to work on the family ranch. The land, part of the state’s first commercial dairy region, was in transition. President John F. Kennedy in 1962 had signed legislation establishing the national seashore and explicitly providing for the retention of ranching there. The purchase of land for the seashore was largely completed by 1972.

Mendoza remained a bachelor until 1980, when he married his wife of 35 years, Linda Moretti Mendoza.

He operated his dairy until 2009, when he sold his herd of nearly 500 cows as part of a national program seeking to reduce herds amidst the biggest downturn in the U.S. dairy industry in decades. Mendoza said his family nonetheless would keep leasing the land. And today his son, Jarrod Mendoza, operates the ranch and sells organic milk.

Mendoza’s daughter, Jolynn McClelland of Petaluma, also a dairy owner, said the most striking trait about her father was his loyalty to friends and his community. As an example, she noted that throughout his life he was a fan at Tomales High athletic events. He likely attended a baseball game within the last year.

“He was Tomales Braves through and through,” McClelland said.

Along with his wife, daughter and son, Mendoza is survived by a brother, Jim Mendoza of Petaluma, and three grandchildren.

Today’s services included a funeral Mass at 10:30 a.m. at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Petaluma. The family prefers donations to the Tomales High School Boosters Club or the Tomales Friends of Ag.

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