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Longtime Petaluma dairy farmer Don Moreda dies at 83

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West-of-Petaluma dairy kid Donald Moreda bought his first cow at age 14. He harvested about a gallon and a half of milk a day and began to research and experiment with how to safely and humanely increase production.

Today the fourth and fifth generations of his North Coast industry-leading dairy family are collecting from each cow an average of about 10 gallons of milk a day.

“My husband, when he set out to do something, he was good at it,” said Moreda’s post-Petaluma High sweetheart and wife of 60 years, the former Linda Bianchi.

Don Moreda, a dairyman and avid deer hunter respected for his innate quest for excellence and his decades of service to fellow ranchers, youth and the community, died Monday at the sprawling Chileno Valley ranch that was his home all his life. He was 83.

“He was just one of those people that you liked to be around,” said friend and fellow Petaluma dairyman Ralph Sartori. “You’d pick his brain on the knowledge of the industry because he definitely knew the industry.”

Moreda helped to work the Moreda Laguna Dairy, consistently among the region’s most productive and innovative, until days before his death from complications of diabetes.

Competitive and entrepreneurial, he was 16 when he boarded a train as a Future Farmers of America member and traveled in 1949 to a national competition in Waterloo, Idaho, where he and his Petaluma team garnered awards that included a national gold emblem in dairy cattle judging.

A favorite of his stories recounted how the FFA teacher, Pappy Norton, gave the kids a few dollars each day for meals, souvenirs and such. Moreda would recall that while his fellow FFA members feasted and spent, he got by so frugally that he arrived back in Petaluma with more money in his pocket than when he left.

His wife discovered when they were students at Petaluma High School that he was “just a fun guy to be around.” The closer she got to him, the more substance and promise she discovered.

“It seemed like he just had everything together,” Linda Moreda said. “He seemed to be on top of everything.”

She remembers telling her mother, “I think he would make a real good father.”

They married in 1956.

Employed always at the dairy that his grandfather founded in 1915, Moreda spent his free time racing hardtop speedsters at tracks throughout the Bay Area and the North Coast all through the 1950s and into the ’60s.

“He loved anything where he could compete,” his wife said.

Drafted into the Army in ’56, after the Korean war, Moreda tested himself to see how leanly he could live. Linda Moreda said he became so good at stashing away earnings that fellow soldiers and even officers came to him for loans to tide them over until payday.

Don Moreda bought the family dairy from his father, Antone, in 1960. Through the past 56 years, he refined and upgraded the operation and served in leadership roles that included positions on the boards of the Sonoma County Fair, Dairy Farmers of America and the California Cooperative Creamery and its successor, the Petaluma Creamery.

He also served more than 30 years on the Laguna Joint School District board, and he was a founding director of the Petaluma High School Wildlife Museum.

As with most of his fellow west Sonoma and Marin ranchers, Moreda came to love the temporary “Running Fence” that artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude persuaded them to allow to cross their land in 1976.

“He took the family up in an airplane to see it,” said one of Moreda’s seven children, Sharon Gowan of Philo.

Linda Moreda said that from his earliest days her husband lived his life fully, helped and advocated for fellow dairy farmers, encouraged young people, pushed himself to be the best and delighted his family.

“The Frank Sinatra thing, that was him,” she said. “I did it my way. Well, he did.”

Don Moreda is survived by his wife in Petaluma; his daughter in Philo; his other children, DeeDee Moreda, Don Moreda Jr. and Mike Moreda, all of Petaluma, Jody Brazil of Tomales and Christine Moreda of New York City; his siblings, Antoinette Wheeler of Rohnert Park, Bob Moreda of Bodega, Betty Gallagher of Tomales, Joyce Leveroni of Novato, Larry Moreda of Livermore and Tony “Duke” Moreda of Boise, Idaho; 18 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. A daughter, Mary Moreda, preceded him in death.

Visitation will be from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday at Parent-Sorensen Mortuary. A Vigil is at 5 p.m. that same day St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church.

A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at the church.

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