Longtime Sheep Rancher and Agriculture Leader Died Dec. 1
By Tim Tesconi, Executive Director Sonoma County Farm Bureau
The life and times of Bruce Campbell, a Healdsburg rancher, auctioneer, agriculture leader and inveterate story teller known for his wit and wisdom, will be celebrated at a gathering of friends and family from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday Jan. 18 at the 4-H Center, 6445 Commerce Boulevard, Rohnert Park.
Campbell, who was 64, died of pneumonia on Dec. 1 in Santa Rosa. He had been in deteriorating health for several years.
Campbell was the founder of CK Lamb, a company that produced high-end lamb for markets from Los Angeles to New York, winning acclaim from chefs and food writers for quality. One food writer proclaimed that Campbell’s lamb must have been “massaged by French nuns” because the meat was so remarkably tender and delicious.
Rex Williams, a longtime friend who was mentored in sheep ranching by Campbell, said the gathering on Jan. 18 will celebrate Campbell’s life and the many contributions he made to Sonoma County agriculture including his dedication to 4-H and FFA members. Campbell volunteered as an auctioneer at junior livestock auctions held at the Sonoma County Fair and other fairs around the Redwood Empire, always bringing his own brand of down-home humor to any gathering.
“The Celebration of Bruce’s life will be a typical Bruce Campbell gathering, with lots of story-telling and jokes around the barbecue where great lamb will be grilling,” said Williams, who purchased Campbell’s sheep flock when the rancher retired six years ago. Williams said everyone is invited to the gathering to remember Campbell and toast his life with fine Sonoma County wines.
Campbell’s nephew Robert Irwin, the son of Campbell’s sister, the late Susie Campbell Irwin and her husband Tom Irwin, said his uncle was one-of-a-kind, a man who always had a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye. He could do anything and everything and was always willing to share his know-how with others.
“One thing I can’t forget is his big smile. Uncle Bruce was my hero and always encouraged me in all that I did, telling me that anything is possible if you work hard,” said Irwin, who has followed in Campbell’s boot steps. Irwin runs sheep in Sonoma, Lake and Colusa counties.
Campbell was a native and lifelong resident of Sonoma County, except for the years he was in Colorado attending college. After graduating from Healdsburg High School, he enrolled at Colorado State University to study veterinary medicine. He later decided he didn’t want to be a vet and earned a degree in animal science, which would lead him back to Sonoma County to start CK Lamb.
CK stood for the “Campbell Kids,” which included Campbell and his older sisters Susie and Linda, who grew up on a family ranch outside of Healdsburg. During the 1950’s and 1960’s the Campbell Kids, members of the 4-H and FFA, blazed the livestock showing circuit, winning grand champions for their sheep and market steers and proving themselves to be master livestock showmen. They won all of the tops awards at fairs and triumphed at the Cow Palace’s Junior Grand National Livestock Exposition in San Francisco and the California State Fair.
For decades as the proprietor and face of CK Lamb, Campbell was the most visible and well-known sheep rancher in Sonoma County, maybe in California. His business was wide-reaching when he expanded and bought lambs that met his quality requirements from other ranchers. He also took an active role with other specialty food producers in establishing and then nurturing Select Sonoma County, an organization that promoted the county’s artisan food and farm products.
Gregarious and generous with his time, Campbell was a favorite of the media because he was so quick-witted, quotable and, always, willing to opine on almost any subject. Once when asked about the gentrification of his hometown of Healdsburg, Campbell, in his best aw-shucks manner, lamented that there were so many touristy boutique gift shops that a guy could no longer find a place to buy underwear.
Campbell, who served on the board of directors of Sonoma County Farm Bureau for several years, also had an interest in politics, once making an unsuccessful run for the Fourth District seat on the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.
In recent years, Campbell cared for his elderly father Dr. Charles Campbell, who was a Healdsburg veterinarian and active in the community including serving on the board of directors of the Sonoma County Fair.
Campbell was preceded in death by both of his sisters and his mother Ruth. He is survived by his father, his step children Kelly Duetermann of Arcata and John Ponts of Barrow, Alaska and by several nieces and nephews.
Memorial contributions are suggested to the Bruce Campbell Memorial Agricultural Scholarship. The scholarship will be administered by the Farm Bureau Foundation of Sonoma County, a 501 C-3 charitable foundation. Checks should be made to the Farm Bureau Foundation and mailed to 3589 Westwind Blvd., Santa Rosa, CA. 95403.
Contributions also can be made to the 4-H Foundation of Sonoma County, P.O. Box 1283, Rohnert Park, CA. 94927.