Serving the community since 1970

Pioneer Fern Dargatz Sanford turning 100

Fern Dargatz Sanford, a Shafter resident, is about ready to turn 100. Her daughter wrote of her life for The Shafter Press.

Fern Dargatz Sanford was born on Aug. 15, 1923, at the family homestead in Anaheim. Her parents, Leo and Genevieve Dargatz, were citrus farmers, as were her grandparents, Otto Dargatz and Amelia Peters, German immigrants from Ukraine. Fern attended elementary school in Santa Ana. She learned to play the drums and the violin.

The Dargatz's attended Aimee Semple McPherson's Bible School in Los Angeles. As an evangelist, Leo decided to travel the western U.S., spreading God's word. Fern was 7. They drove a refurbished boxcar (one of the very first mobile homes in the U.S.). By the time Fern was 10, she had been in every state west of the Mississippi.

The Gospel Car had a large spotlight and microphones to attract a crowd. During services, Fern played the drums, her older sister Opal played the violin, her older brother Oliver played the trumpet, Genevieve played the piano, and Leo preached. It was an adventurous life. Fern tells stories of Indian dances and ceremonies, cooking for forest rangers, working on farms, and picking apples. The old boxcar resides today, at the home of Louis and Debbie Andreotti in Buttonwillow.

Toward the end of the Great Depression, the family moved to Kern County. Leo bought swampland in Buttonwillow, in 1937, from Miller and Lux. Rich soil, good for growing rice and cotton. They lived in the boxcar while they built a beautiful two-story home on the new property, just off Main Drain Road.

Leo went to Bakersfield High School to arrange transportation for his children. BHS said you must have three students to create a new bus stop in a rural area. Leo said, "Here they are, Oliver, Opal and Fern." Hence, the new bus stop at Main Drain Road and the new Dargatz Road intersection. Fern tells the story of the bus driver taking the curves of the road too fast (those of us from Buttonwillow know this danger!) and turned over in the canal. They had to climb out of the back door, soaking wet, with books and papers floating around them. The Bakersfield Californian reported the "students had defied death in the canal!"

In the early days, the Main Drain canal was patrolled by horseback, checking water levels, weirs and banks. When the community upgraded to a vehicle to patrol the drain, they gave the old unneeded "ditch horse" to Fern. She rode that horse many times to meet her girlfriend, Sybil Dunford. At the beginning of WWII, the family acquired two more horses from a Japanese family leaving for the Manzanar internment camp. Fern's horses were loved and ridden for many years. We learned to ride on Molly and Tommy, and rode for many more years (till the early '70s).

Fern graduated from Bakersfield High School in 1941. She then attended Springfield Bible College in Springfield, Mo. Later on, she spent a year at UC Berkeley in the Bay Area.

During WWII, Fern drove the farm equipment to help out. For many years after, Fern knew how to drive tractors. But her driving reputation was damaged when she drove the German POWs from their camp to the farm. Every day, the POWs worked as farm laborers. They rode to the farm in a cotton trailer towed behind the car. Fern was driving a little fast on the infamous Main Drain, and the POWs tumbled about in the trailer. They said, [BEGIN ITAL]"Ach du lieber!"[END ITAL] That Fern is a crazy driver!" Oh, the many hidden dangers of war.

After the war, Fern decided to take a photography night class at Taft College. There was a fellow student there who was very handsome! He was a veteran, and now an oilfield worker. After class, Fern stopped by the local drive-in for a hot chocolate. She pulled in right next to the handsome guy! He rolled down his window and asked her to join him in his car. Fern was no dummy and asked "Are you married?" His answer was "No." So she hopped in his car and a romance was begun with Robert Thomas Sanford, Jr. The first time Bob came to pick up Fern for a date, the peacocks roosting in the trees, called out their "watchdog" cry. Bob had never seen, or heard, peacocks and wondered what kind of banshees these people raised! What had he gotten himself into?!

Bob and Fern were married on Nov. 12, 1949, at the First Assembly of God Church at 17th and O in Bakersfield. Pastor C.M. Ward was the minister. They lived a short time in Taft, and then moved to Plainsburg, near Merced. They farmed, and raised cattle with Fern's brother Oliver. They raised tomatoes, almonds, wheat, bell peppers, and hay. Their first daughter Jennie was born. Then Carol was born. They lived in the "little house" – one of the first "tiny homes."

Eventually Fern and Bob built a new home on the ranch. Fern played the piano in their church, the Assembly of God in Merced. There were many adventures on the ranch and the summer range in the foothills. During the Merced River flood in the late '50s, they had to evacuate on Christmas Eve. At one time, the hay barn caught on fire. Cattle trucks got stuck in the mud on the range. Yosemite was their playground: camping, hiking and watching the famous "firefalls." Their son John was born in 1960.

In 1961, Fern and Bob sold the ranch and moved to Mt. Shasta. New adventures! Snow, and a lot of it! Bob worked in the International Paper plywood mill in Weed for a couple years. Raising their toddler, John, was an adventure in itself. Fern could only handle two years of snow. She says "driving with chains on the car for the entire winter was just too much!" They moved back to Buttonwillow in 1963.

Now Fern and Bob were cotton farmers. They raised their three children here; they went to Buttonwillow Elementary and Shafter High schools, until 1968. When her parents passed away, Fern still held a portion of Leo and Genevieve's ranch in Whitmore, near Mt. Lassen. Many adventures, happy memories and sad, were had by all of Leo and Genevieve's children and grandchildren at their mountain hideaway.

Then Fern and Bob purchased a house from her brother Oliver, in Shafter. They still attended the Assembly of God Church at 17th and O. Bob worked at Oil Well Service. Bob was a volunteer at the Minter Field Air Museum and assisted at the Minter Field Airshows. He was also a member of the American Legion. And Fern belonged to the Women's Auxiliary. In their later years, they attended the "Jesus Saves" Church in Shafter. Her husband, Bob, passed away in 2004. Fern continued to live in their home on Fresno Avenue next to Maple School until 2018. She lived there for a total of 50 years! She currently resides at Carrington Assisted Living in Shafter.

Fern loves gardening! All of her life she has cultivated beautiful flower gardens. She would enter her flower arrangements in the county fairs. And every year she grew a bountiful vegetable garden. And cared for her many fruit trees. She is an excellent gardener, always planting, weeding, fertilizing, watering, pruning, transplanting, trimming, etc. We finally had to take the chainsaw away from her in 2018.

Fern has a soft spot in her heart for animals! She always had horses and ponies. Over the years, she also had goats, sheep, cattle, chickens, geese, a crow, peacocks, doves, turkeys, parrots, canaries, dogs and cats. If there was a stray, starving or injured animal, Fern would nurse it back to health.

Fern's greatest passion in life is spreading the Word of God. She began in that traveling evangel boxcar with her family. She has always been active in church. She passed out tracts and still witnesses to people everywhere. She contributes to many of her favorite ministries, some distributing Bibles around the world, building orphanages and many other outreach programs. Fern has a huge loving heart for those in need. Fern would give her family members Scriptures written on index cards for encouragement and guidance. Until her eyesight recently failed her, Fern faithfully read her Bible every single day.

Fern loves her family! She was devoted to her parents, who passed in the 1960's. She raised three children, Jennie, Carol and John. She is now blessed with four grandchildren, Virginia, Vanessa, Jami and Shane, and five great grandchildren, Rachel, Maddie, Hannah, Megan and Walker. All continue to be raised under the watchful hand of God.

Fern's Christian influence will continue to affect future generations.


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