We are sad to announce the passing of our dear father and well-known dairyman Robert Lee Moniz. He died April 1, 2019 of congestive heart failure and the effects of enduring a long battle with the painful condition know as spinal stenosis. He lived to be 91 years and 9 months old. He was preceded in death 8 years ago by his beloved wife of 64 years, and our mother, Billie Percival Moniz. His death was also preceded by three of his siblings , Alyce “Oppie” Dixon, Geraldine “Geri” Alt and a baby brother born early due to a fall by his mother.
Daddy was born July 29, 1927 in Snelling, CA to Mary Azevedo and Manuel Moniz. He was the son and grandson of Portuguese immigrants from the Azores, Portugal, from the Islands of Pico and Sao George.
The Portuguese have a long, proud history of farming, fishing,whaling and textile work not only in the Azores but in America as well. According to the chronology of Portuguese Immigrants in the United States it is estimated that there were several hundred Christian Portuguese and many Jewish Portuguese in the colonies by the time of the Revolutionary War. They were in New York, the Charleston District of South Carolina, Philadelphia and Williamsburg, Virginia. Some fought in the Civil War.
By 1830 commercial relations for whaling between New Bedford, MA and the Azores were in full swing. The Yankee ships would take on supplies from the islands where sperm whales were plentiful in its deep waters. They also recruited sailors who wanted a chance to come to America. Conditions on the ships were less than desirable and many Portuguese sailors jumped ship once they reached the East and West coasts and Hawaii. Of those who did, many became successful ship owners, captains, textile manufacturers and entrepreneurs. Others continued to work on whaling ships on the California and Hawaiian coasts. The discovery of petroleum in Pennsylvania in 1859 began the decline of the whaling industry as the oil from the rendered fat would no longer be needed for lamps to light dwellings.
Many Portuguese made their way to the gold fields in California in 1849 later returning to livelihoods in which they excelled such as farming, cattle and sheep ranching and fishing. Finding California's climate well suited to their needs many became ranch hands, saving enough money to to eventually send for their families in the Azores, purchase property and start their own businesses. Tulare, Merced, Kings, Marin and San Joaquin Counties quickly became home to many Portuguese owned dairies. In the Tracy area alone there were the Portuguese dairy families of Borges, Allegre, Toste, Pimentel, Mello, Simas, Pombo, Furtado, Gomes, Bettencourt, Machado, Costa, Coehlo, Rocha, Santos, Moniz and others. The greater share of properties on Grantline Rd. that is now occupied by housing developments, shopping centers and malls were at one time home to cattle, corrals, haystacks, alfalfa fields, and milk barns. With the short Portuguese history lesson behind us, we turn back to our father.
Daddy's mother died of the flu when he was but 18 months old. He and his two older sisters were taken in by his grandparents who had already raised at least a half dozen of their own. They immigrated from the Azores in the early 1900's by way of Ellis Island. His grandfather worked on a sheep ranch in Pleasanton for 3 years earning enough money to send for his wife and first 3 children. They spoke only Portuguese. For the rest of his life Daddy would see his father only on a few occasions.
When Dad was a young child they moved from Snelling to Tracy. Their home was on 4th Street and his Grandfather worked as a guard at Holly Sugar. He attended the old South School then located at what is now McDonald Park on Central Ave. south of the railroad tracks. In those days the south side was teaming with kids and there was never a lack of friends to play with. Some of those families included the Serpa's, Zaragoza's, Silva's, John and Eddie Marlow who were great athletes, Eddie Enos and the 4 Percival girls, etc.
In the 3rd grade he would have Miss Millicent as his teacher at West Park School which at the time was a wooden, two-story structure. Having a reputation of being very stern, Miss Millicent asked what he wanted to be when he grew up. His mind made up from an early age he replied that he was going to be a dairyman. She laughed. Perhaps he was influenced by the few cows his grandfather milked on the 5 acres he owned on Holly Dr. where they now lived. He always liked animals and especially cattle. After school he would walk to Joe Lawrence's ranch located on Schulte Rd. east of Tracy Blvd. He would help feed the animals just to be around them. He said once in a while Joe would give him fifty cents for helping out. Years later, Joe and Dad would enjoy riding their horses together in the Saddle Club and in parades.
When 9 years old he contracted the polio virus and was unable to walk. He had to crawl or be carried by his sisters Geri and Oppie and after a period of time regained the ability to walk again. Not only did he over come the disease but he became a very fast runner and an outstanding athlete qualifying to letter in football his first year at Tracy High School. He was known for drop-kicking field goals. It was school policy that no one be allowed to letter their first year, however the coach felt he deserved it and gave him a certificate in spite of the rules but he still wasn't allowed to wear a Block “T” sweater. Thinking it unfair, His future sister-in-law, Marietta Percival Silva took care of that by giving Dad her own Block “T” sweater to wear since she had already graduated. WWII was in full swing and gas was rationed. The football team had to find their own rides to the games by scraping money together to buy enough gas to get to out of town games in separate cars.
Becoming reaquainted with Billie while in high school and with no means of transportation he would visit her at the Percival home on 2nd St. then run all the way across town to his house near Holly Sugar at night. When asked why he ran all the way his answer was simple. It was dark and scary!
Dad was drafted into the Army during WWII but was rejected. His knee reflexes were non-existent due to polio. Instead he and his best friend from childhood, Manuel Zaragoza, joined the Merchant Marines. During training at Catalina Island, recruits could enter a boxing match which would earn the winner a steak. Dad initially didn't get a steak but he did earn some special stars which he saw floating in a circle over his head! He finally won a match but couldn't eat the steak because his jaw hurt too badly.
Dad and Manuel's plans to serve together went south when Dad became ill and spent time in the infirmary while Manuel was shipped out. Dad was assigned to the Liberty ship the USS Marquette Victory. Although the war had just ended, their cargo consisting of aviation fuel and gold bouillon still needed to be delivered to Shanghai, China. While on board he was given the opportunity to serve the ship's officers as they dined and possibly make a little extra money in tips but laughed while admitting he wasn't very good at it and never received any tips from the officers.
Crossing the Pacific the USS Marquette Victory tangled with a typhoon and was tossed to and fro with the waves being much higher than the ship. At times the entire propeller blades were lifted completely out of the water and whose spinning shook the entire boat. On one occasion, had Daddy not reached out grabbing hold of a cable he would have been swept overboard.
Ships and typhoons are not a good combination for someone with motion sickness.
Dodging catastrophe from the typhoon they now had something else to dodge, namely mines in the Pacific placed by the enemy! They had a difficult time maneuvering through them and at times the mines were up against the ship. It was the gunner's job to detonate the mines however Dad said they weren't very good shots.
Upon reaching Shanghai he was touched deeply by the poverty and hunger of the Chinese people who jumped into the water to fight for the garbage that was thrown off the ship. Many people had expired on the streets, were put on carts and taken away.
Back on the West Coast the Marquette sailed into San Francisco. Extremely weary of the ocean Dad walked off the ship and never looked back. I guess one could say he's still AWOL. He would not truly appreciate why they were called Liberty ships until after he was married and Mom had given birth to 4 children within 5 years.
In the meantime Dad and Mom moved to Firebaugh in order for him to work on his Uncle Tony Azevedo's dairy. Tony owned a very fast horse whose reputation spread, catching the attention of and purchased by the early western movie star Tom Mix. Mix owned race horses in those days. After a few months in Firebaugh Dad worked on the Coehlo dairy in Byron.
With the youngest child just 1 year old our parents began their dream of owning a dairy and moved our family of 6 to the property on Schulte Rd. in in 1954. There has been a dairy at that location for over 100 years and is only about 150 yards west of the center of the old town of Ellis. As kids we would often play at the site and later would dig finding such artifacts as a clay pipe, a thick round bottomed green bottle, 1902 Indian Head penny, a foundation, clay ginger bottles and more.
Dad started his dairy with 20 milk cows including Pet, Jean and Snowball and 2 Australian shepherds named Queenie and Bob. He shipped his milk to the Dairy Maid Creamery at what is now 11th and MacArthur streets. As the herd grew it became necessary to stop naming the cows and instead identify them by the number impressed on the brass tags that hung around their necks. There would be many dogs over the years but they still got names. It's just not right to name a dog “Number 15 With the Gimpy Leg” or “Number 7 Who Chews Cement”. Cow dogs deserve respect.
No one had a better eye for cattle than Dad and over the years with the help of our brother Mark and those whom he employed he built a first class herd to be very proud of. Other dairymen who went to the livestock auction asked to be notified when heifers from the Bob Moniz dairy were being brought in so they could have a chance to bid on them. They always brought top dollar.
The dairy business is hard work and has had it's ups and downs including some heartaches. Because of government regulations over 300 small family dairies have gone out of business the last couple of years in California alone. In spite of everything it was the best place for this family of siblings to be raised and we wouldn't have had it any other way. The parents we were blessed with, the love and support they gave each one of us, the freedom to run, explore, create, play, work, the example they gave of how to treat others, how to love your spouse and be faithful to them and to God will be forever cherished.
He enjoyed hunting and fishing with family and friends, watching the Warriors and Forty Niners, loved his in-laws Walt and Mary Percival, babies and puppies, his horse Little Boy, his Queensland Healer Penny and traveling to the Nebraska ranch of former Tracyites David and Connie Cordes to witness his black Angus roundup and the cowboy neighbors who helped. He looked forward to the weekly “Donut Day” visits with former field man and friend Dan DeSart. He loved people and had many friends who loved him in return. He loved a good joke. We got a kick out of his booming laugh. He loved a good western and could identify what horse was in what movie and who rode it. He loved watching his field being prepared for planting a crop of alfalfa for his cows, watching it grow, starting to loft, come to a head and to watch it being harvested. Not quite ready to harvest, he got to see the most beautiful field of forage currently growing on his property. Most of all he loved his wife and family.
He was a humble, kind, generous, sensitive and caring Christian man always looking out for others until his last breath. On his last day when he could barely speak he would ask if we were doing OK and thanked us for the care we had given him. We thanked him for being a wonderful father and husband. In the end he taught us how to die.
Happy Trails Daddy.
Dad was a member of the Parker Ave. church of Christ, California and American Dairy Associations and a proud member of the NRA.
We are grateful for the kindness shown by members of the Community Hospice team. We want to thank Carla, Darlyn, Sharlyn, Brenda, Connie, Tina and Amanda for their excellent care and friendship during this time.
He is survived by a sister Beverly (Paul) Anderson of Modesto, a sister-in-law Dorothy Percival of Lodi, his 4 children, Laurel Moniz, Mark (Linda) Moniz, Michele (Steve) Schmitt all of Tracy and Marlene (Dr.Gary)Eyre of Santa Rosa, 19 grandchildren, 1 great-great grandchild and a set of twin great-great grandchildren due in October.
Funeral services will be held at Fry Memorial Chapel, 550 S. Central Ave., Tracy, CA 95376, Wednesday April 10, 2019 at 11 am.,