Longtime dairy rancher and agriculture leader will be inducted into Farm Bureau’s Hall of Fame

By Tim Tesconi

Marilyn Herzog, born on a family ranch in 1943, is grateful she grew up during the golden age of agriculture in Sonoma County, the era in the 1940s and 1950s when most everyone was a farmer or in a business tied to farming.

It was a time when thousands of farms spread across the county, growing everything from apples to hops and the prize-winning cattle and sheep that dominated the nation’s livestock shows. It was potluck suppers at Farm Bureau and Grange gatherings with neighboring land owners attuned to the seasonal rhythms of farming. Elected leaders were mostly farmers and ranchers. Prices for prunes and wool were front-page stories in The Press Democrat.

“When I was growing up on Sonoma Mountain, it really was the golden age of agriculture for the county. That agricultural way of life and my experiences as a 4-H Club member formed me. I love agriculture, its history and important place in Sonoma County,” said Herzog, who was born Marilyn Jacobs, the daughter of Santa Rosa ranchers Bill and Ruth Jacobs, who were respected ag leaders for decades.

Ruth Jacobs, the first girl to join 4-H in Sonoma County, was the daughter of Jim Jamison, a prominent Bennett Valley rancher who died in 1937 while serving on the Sonoma County board of supervisors. He was a leading proponent for establishing the Sonoma County Fair in 1936 and until his death served on the fair board.

Ruth’s brother was the late J. Wesley Jamison, the legendary Santa Rosa High School agriculture teacher and longtime livestock manager of the Sonoma County Fair.

Marilyn’s family ties to agriculture and the Sonoma County Fair have been a source of pride and perspective throughout her purposeful life. While the county’s culture and landscape have dramatically changed, agriculture remains a dominant and defining industry in Sonoma County. And at 80 years old, Marilyn Jacobs Herzog is still going strong as she advocates for agriculture on many levels including her work with Farm Bureau, the Sonoma County Fair, 4-H, and FFA.

Marilyn has steadfastly dedicated her life to building community, championing family values, and preserving Sonoma County’s rich agricultural heritage. She said there is a lot of work yet to do, remembering what her hard-working father would say on the ranch.

“You can’t quit until the chores are done,” said Marilyn, who these days is channeling much of her time and energy to farm youth and the fair. She has been a fair director for the last 12 years, focusing on expanding the livestock and agriculture exhibits while providing opportunities for junior exhibitors who want to raise animals.

Farm Bureau leaders say Marilyn Herzog’s extraordinary contributions in the fields of agriculture will be honored with her induction into the Sonoma County Farm Bureau Hall of Fame. The prestigious award recognizes individuals who have made a real and lasting difference in preserving and protecting Sonoma County’s agriculture industry and the county’s 500,000 acres of farmland.

“It should come as no surprise to anyone that Marilyn Herzog is being inducted into the Sonoma County Farm Bureau Hall of Fame. Our local agriculture has been greatly influenced by her generosity, passion, and desire to promote, support, and enhance our county’s agricultural heritage,” said Dayna Ghirardelli, executive director of Sonoma County Farm Bureau.

“Additionally, Marilyn is a tremendous cheerleader of our youth in agriculture and is an unwavering supporter and partner of Sonoma County Farm Bureau,” said Ghirardelli.

Marilyn’s husband Kip Herzog, one of the world’s leading breeders of Holstein dairy cattle, was inducted into the Farm Bureau Hall of Fame in 2009. Now Marilyn and Kip Herzog will join other agriculture leaders like the late Richard and Saralee McClelland Kunde, Gene Benedetti, and Larry Bertolini, in the Hall of Fame.

Marilyn and the other “Stewards of the Land” award recipients will be honored at Farm Bureau’s Love of the Land celebration on July 27 at Richard’s Grove and Saralee’s Vineyard, the Windsor estate that is now part of Jackson Family Wines.

Marilyn and Kip Herzog, who have three children and five grandchildren, owned and operated the famed Sleepy Hollow Dairy in Petaluma for decades, retiring from dairy ranching in 2000.The Herzogs were world-renown for their herd of registered Holstein dairy cattle. They sold breeding stock around the globe and entertained international Holstein breeders at Sleepy Hollow where their hospitality was legend.

“The Holstein cow gave me the opportunity to see the world. I visited a dozen countries promoting Holsteins,’ said Marilyn, who still keeps in touch with Holstein breeders when she travels to Italy, one of her favorite destinations. Her love of travel was the reason she founded her own agency, Marilyn Can Travel, in 2001. Over the last 22 years, she has donated many trips, worth thousands of dollars, to benefit agriculture and 4-H in Sonoma County.

Like many farm kids over the years, Marilyn said her membership in 4-H shaped her life, giving her the opportunity to interact with inspiring leaders and to travel throughout the state and nation. It instilled confidence, the ability to speak in public, and a deep respect for the values of leadership and community service.

“If it wasn’t for 4-H, I would have been a country bumpkin,” Marilyn laughs recalling in those days it was work, work, work on the ranch, with little play.

“I never learned to roller skate or ice skate but I did ride my horse endlessly over our property and the ranches we leased on Sonoma Mountain,” she said.

Marilyn was an award-winning member of the Bennett Valley 4-H Club in the 1950s and 1960s, becoming a Sonoma County 4-H All-Star for her stellar community service and her outstanding 4-H projects in raising Guernsey dairy cattle, food preservation, sewing, and many more.

In 1962 she was the national 4-H winner in dairy foods and won a scholarship to the University of California, Davis, where she graduated in 1966. During her senior year at Montgomery High School, she won the Dairy Princess title for the Redwood Empire. She later went on to win California Dairy Princess, which in those days was a full-time job. She traveled more than 70,000 miles that year doing television and radio interviews to promote milk and the state’s dairy farmers. She remains the only young woman from the North Coast to ever win the state title.

In many ways, Marilyn Herzog’s life has epitomized the 4-H motto “To Make the Best Better.” Whether raising millions of dollars for cancer research or supporting the work of farm youth and young Holstein cattle enthusiasts, Marilyn has made a real difference in the community that she and her family call home. She is on everyone’s “A” list of who to call to get things done. And done right.

In 2010, Marilyn was selected as the first recipient of the annual 4-H Alumni Recognition Award, given by the 4-H Foundation of Sonoma County. The award honors a former Sonoma County 4-H member who on a daily basis upholds the values of leadership, citizenship, and community service, which are the hallmarks of the 4-H program.

“There is no one better to set the standards for this new award than Marilyn Herzog. She is a true leader, guiding others to join her in making the best better in the true spirit of 4-H,” Rocco Cunningham, then a member of the Penngrove 4-H and Petaluma FFA, said in presenting the award in 2010. Today, Cunningham, who went to Cornell University and is back working in agriculture, serves with Marilyn as a Sonoma County Fair Board director.

Many remember Marilyn’s eloquence in accepting the award, saying it was one of the most cherished and meaningful awards she had ever received because 4-H had played such a pivotal role in defining her life. She said she was inspired by Earl Butz, then dean of agriculture at Purdue University who would later become U.S. Secretary of Agriculture when he delivered the keynote address at the National 4-H Club Congress in Chicago in 1962.

Marilyn was in Chicago as the national 4-H winner in dairy foods. She clearly remembers Butz’s words: “Do everything that you can, for every person you can, every day that you can, in every way that you can.”

That has been her guiding philosophy for more than 60 years as she volunteers and advocates for good. She said one of her most rewarding experiences as a 4-H Club member was donating one of her Guernsey heifers to a family in Mexico and then traveling there to visit the family and her beloved cow. She said a little boy in the family was going blind because of a disorder related to malnourishment.

“The milk from that Guernsey cow provided the nutrition that improved his eyesight dramatically. That was so gratifying to me,” Marilyn said.

Her many contributions have been recognized and celebrated. In 1993 she received the Petaluma Chamber of Commerce’s first-ever Woman of the Year Award and three years later was named Volunteer of the Year for California by the American Cancer Society. In 2018 she was named Friend of Agriculture by the Sonoma County Harvest Fair. She was honored with the Sonoma County Economic Development Board’s “Spirit of Sonoma County” award for her dedication to agriculture.

Perseverance and resilience are the words many use to describe Marilyn Herzog who has soldiered on even while facing serious health challenges like kidney failure. While serving as president of the Sonoma County Fair in 2018 she would arrive at the fairgrounds in the morning to be present for meetings with staff and to attend livestock shows. She would drive an hour home for a dialysis treatment and then drive back to be at the fairgrounds in the evening.

“I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to encourage a kid who placed last and was feeling down about it. I would tell the kid that next time will be easier. Now just go and shake the judge’s hand and tell him ‘thank you’ for the experience,” said Marilyn, believing in the life values learned at the fair.

Marilyn has watched many young people in 4-H and FFA as they graduate from high school, go off to agricultural college, and then return to Sonoma County to become leaders on the ag front. Young people like Rocco Cunningham, Amanda Moretti, Brooke Parsons, and many others.

“It brings me so much joy to see these young people getting their agricultural degrees and coming back to work in agriculture in Sonoma County,” said Marilyn. “They will lead the way for the future of farming.”