I have known Stanley Denner pretty much all my life. My father went to high school with Stanley and his brother Russ back in the 30s. They stayed close friends, and because of their relationship, I was around Stanley a lot. Especially in the summers – so I have a lot of great memories.
When I was a young boy, I used to run the hay baler on the Denner Ranch. I had a very strong work ethic instilled in me, to the point where it was hard for me to stop work at the end of the day or even take 30 minutes for lunch.
Over the years on the Denner Ranch, when my Dad and I stopped for lunch, we would sit under the big oak tree close to the creek. It had tremendous shade and a cool breeze came off the water. Dad and I used to swim in that creek almost every day to cool off during the summer. Dad knew how to make a day’s worth of work fun.
Those were some great times in my life, sitting under the oak tree with my father and looking back over a morning’s worth of hay baling. My dad was always so positive and inspiring around the work I did. I remember practically inhaling my lunch so I could get back to the baler. Dad always believed in taking at least a half hour nap after lunch; he did so every day of his life.
I had started running the baler when I was about five years old, moving it from one shock of hay to the next shock of hay, so Dad wouldn’t have to keep getting on and off the tractor. Once I got to be about 9 years old, I couldn’t wait for Dad to finish his post-lunch nap, so I’d jump back on the baler.
Because I was so young, Stanley Denner worried about me running the baler when my dad was asleep. He would drive by right after his own lunch and check to make sure I was ok. And that everything was going according to Hoyle.
(By the way, that phrase, “according to Hoyle,” is one that has fallen by the wayside, sadly. It basically means “playing by the rules” or “things are going as they should.”)
As much as I hated to stop work, I looked forward to Stanley’s daily visit. He was also a very inspiring man and always gave me great praise, not only for the amount of work I’d gotten done, but for the quality of it as well.
I was touched that he worried about me. And I think he may have appreciated my work ethic.
One time I was baling on Stanley’s ranch and the tractor broke down. Dad wasn’t around, and as it always seemed to happen, Stanley showed up at just the right time. We worked on the tractor for a while and we couldn’t get it up and running. Stanley told me to sit tight; he’d go get one of his tractors.
He came back with this big old green John Deere tractor, bigger than anything I’d ever operated. I remember it seemed so tall to me, as I was still a young boy at the time, and it sounded so different from my old familiar tractor. I was pretty nervous, but once I made a few passes around the field I was ok. Stanley stayed and watched until he saw I was going to be fine.
As the years went by and I got older, maybe 12, my father would leave me to run the hay baler all by myself, while he ran the mower or rake on another ranch. But I was never worried about it, because I knew I could always count on Stanley if I needed anything.
It was about that time that I started noticing the girls. I can still see Stanley’s daughter Kathy riding her horse across the beautiful fields all around my hay bales. I guess you could say I had a crush on Kathy. Every time Stanley came by I would ask him where Kathy was, and he’d get a big grin on his face. One time he said, “Do you want me to ask her to stop by?” I remember I was so embarrassed, my face must have turned the color of a tomato, and I said, “No, that’s ok.”
Over the years, Stanley and I remained close; that story would come up from time to time and we always had a good laugh. In fact, I stopped by to see him a week or so before he passed, and I asked him how Kathy was doing. That got a big smile out of him and we both chuckled.
Stanley was a tall, handsome and powerful man. Very firm, but kind. He had huge hands and a grip you couldn’t believe. Not too many men had the work ethic of Stanley Denner. To watch him load the truck of hay was pretty impressive.
When my wife Amy and I were married just three years ago, Stanley and Alma attended our wedding. My wife and I commented on how young and healthy Stanley looked at that time. My wife said, “He’s a very handsome man for his age; I hope you hold up that well.” I said, “I hope so, too.”
When I saw Stanley a few weeks ago, he was sitting in his chair and looked like he would have a hard time even getting up, so I figured he would be very weak. But when he shook my hand with that familiar smile, I was quite surprised that he still had that powerful grip.
Stanley and his family worked hard for more than a hundred years farming their ranch through some very hard times, and because of Stanley and his brother Russ’ work ethic, they have been able to keep their ranch while so many families couldn’t. The Denners originally had a 100-head dairy cattle business, along with hay and vegetables. Today they also grow wine grapes and produce about 350 tons of Chardonnay!
It is men like Stanley Denner that made this country the great country it was. Losing Stanley Denner, a man as honest as the day is long, with an integrity no one would question, a man who stood tall and proud and respected his neighbors, who had the common sense to figure anything out, is a huge loss. And it’s a loss not only to his family, but to everyone he touched.
Over the last 10 years or more I have been honored to host the Santa Rosa High School class reunion at our winery for the classes 1930 thru 1938.
Stanley, I believe, attended them all except this last one. I always hate to look out over the crowd and see that one of my friends is not there, and that was the case this year when I looked for Stanley. During those reunions I got to share a lot of great moments with Stanley and his classmates. I loved nothing more than sitting there chatting it up with Stanley, reminiscing back on all those great times growing up in Sonoma County and all the things I did as a kid on the Denner Ranch. I was able to relive a lot of great memories talking to Stanley over the years, and I wouldn’t trade those chats for all the tea in China.
I am honored to be able to say that Stanley Denner was a friend of mine and I feel very strongly that I will meet up with him again someday.