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Rancher Shirley Modini dies on land she cherished
Modini, 89, ensured 1,700-acre ranch would stay wild

  • Shirley and Jim Modini in 2009. (PD File)

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.

"People ask me how I can stand it, being so far out of town. And I ask them how they can stand not being so far out," Shirley Modini told Press Democrat columnist Gaye LeBaron when she visited the ranch in 2009.

"She shied away from the city life. She preferred the peace and solitude of the mountains," her friend and accountant Gary Wilson said Tuesday. "She was very happy right there."

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