There were more than 400 people attending “Saralee Day” on April 15 at the Sonoma County Administration Center to honor the late, great agriculture leader Saralee McClellend Kunde, who died on Jan. 26 following a courageous battle with ovarian cancer. Saralee was 66 at the time of her death.
Sonoma County supervisors officially declared April 15 “Saralee Day” to recognize her many contributions to Sonoma County agriculture, farm youth and the fair. Saralee, who was a director of the Sonoma County Fair at the time of her death, was posthumously made an honorary lifetime fair director by the county board of supervisors during the “Saralee Day” celebration. It was an honor that Saralee would have cherished because she loved the Sonoma County Fair where she was an exuberant fixture for most of her 66 years. As a 4-H’er she showed dairy cattle at the fair. She worked at the fair for many years and, in recent years, guided the fair as a director and board president.
The Sonoma County Fair staff, Sonoma County Farm Bureau and Saralee’s many friends and family joined together to celebrate the occasion with a mini-fair, farm animal exhibits, Dixie Land Jazz Band and a free pasta lunch prepared and donated by the incredible Art Ibleto, the Pasta King, who was a dear friend to Saralee. 4-H kids and FFA students brought their animals to the county center, putting up pens on the lawns on the south side of the county administration center.
Saralee’s family including husband Richard, son Matt, and daughter Catie were there to accept the honorary fair title and the many accolades lavished on Saralee. Saralee’s brother George McClelland and sister Rebecca Wade and their families also came to celebrate Saralee and her remarkable life and times.
Observers said seeing baby pigs and calves on the lawn at the county administration building made the center of county government look more human and approachable. It was a wonderful “Saralee” touch that county supervisors and the county administrator’s office wholly supported and embraced.
It t was the first time ever that such a festive event was held at the county center to celebrate a Sonoma County citizen. But, as supervisors said Saralee was one in a million, devoting her life to promoting agriculture, 4-H and FFA kids and fairs, which she believed showcased local agriculture and its bounty. She was the positive force behind much of what has been done in Sonoma County agriculture over the last 50 years. There were bumper stickers with the slogan, “What Would Saralee Do?”
Supervisor David Rabbitt, chairman of the county board of supervisors, said some people had raised concerns that the festival held in Saralee’s honor would set a precedent at the county complex. Rabbitt countered by saying that if any one stepped up and did just half of what Saralee accomplished the county would throw a party every week at the county center.
Each of the county supervisors talked about Saralee and her effervescent attitude, positive spirit and dedication to make the best better in Sonoma County. Saralee and Rich Kunde ppened their private park, Richard’s Grove, for charitable fund-raisers for agriculture and farm youth groups and wine and food events. Over the decades, millions of dollars were raised for groups and causes at Richard’s Grove.
In addition to the supervisors, speakers included John Balletto, owner of Balletto Vineyards and a close friend, Davis Crawford, a former 4-H Club member who was mentored and inspired by Saralee, and Catherine Barnett, executive editor of the Press Democrat and a close friend of the Kundes.
Barnett said that in the days before her death Saralee said that she wanted her legacy to be her contributions to agriculture. Barnett also said how much Saralee loved and admired husband Richard Kunde for all he did to support her including building her her own fairgrounds, with the beautifully landscaped Richard’s Grove, a four acre oak-studded garden.
“Richard built me a fairgrounds of my own,” she said.