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Saralee McClelland Kunde dies at 66

  • Saralee McClelland Kunde on stage accepting the 2013 Sonoma County Farm Bureau Hall of Fame Award during Sonoma County Farm Bureau's Love of the Land gala at Richard's Grove & Saralee's Vineyard in Windso on July 18, 2013. (PD FILE, 2013)

Saralee McClelland Kunde, a dairy ranchers' daughter who became a grower of prized wine grapes and an irresistible force for the celebration of Sonoma County agriculture, died Sunday.

Revered as a superstar by others who work to promote the county's grapes, wines, milk and other bounty, and to preserve its ranch- and farmlands, Kunde had been grappling with cancer since the fall of 2012. She was 66.

She championed the Sonoma County Harvest Fair since its inception and was key to the Select Sonoma County marketing campaign and the Russian River Valley Winegrowers.

"She has been such a force. For me, Saralee is an icon," Sonoma County Supervisor Mike McGuire said. "When you think of agriculture in Sonoma County, you think of Saralee. It was in her blood."

Kunde was also a devoted fancier of floppy brimmed garden-party hats. She chose a bright orange one for the 1,100-guest Sonoma County Farm Bureau "Love of the Land" cookout last July that inducted her into the organization's Hall of Fame.

That was merely the latest of a multitude of prestigious honors bestowed on Kunde by a grateful community.

She was a generous philanthropist who rallied others to contribute to myriad Sonoma County causes, among them the 4-H Center in Rohnert Park. And she was the county's Daffodil Queen, purchasing hundreds of thousands of bulbs and doling them to anyone who pledged to plant them alongside local highways and roads.

She and her husband, Richard Kunde, made a splendid private park of a scrubby parcel on Slusser Road near the county airport and for years invited local organizations to host benefit events beneath its oaks.

Tireless and innovative, Kunde constantly enacted strategies to promote the Harvest Fair and the Sonoma County Fair, to challenge and inspire youth involved in 4-H and Future Farmers of America, fortify cooperation among grape growers and other producers, and introduce the general public to the farm experience.

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