Charles Albert Rominger, one of Yolo County's most visionary advocates of farmland preservation and wildlife habitat restoration, died October 15 at the age of 52 after an intense battle with cancer. A memorial service is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 27 at St. Anthony's Parish Center, 511 Main St. (Grant Avenue at Main Street), Winters; starting at 4 p.m., with a reception to follow at 5 p.m.
A fifth generation farmer, Rominger felt deeply loyal to the land, and sought to implement earth-friendly agricultural practices -- like creating tail-water return ponds to form closed-loop irrigation systems -- that worked in harmony, rather than conflict, with natural processes. He lived by the belief that it was possible to do well, and thrive, by doing good.
"Even after he was done with his long work days, Charlie kept working -- whether that meant planting hedgerows to host beneficial insects, or going to night meetings to hold real estate developers accountable for paving over farmland," says his widow, Cairn. "Protecting the land was his life's work."
Born in Woodland on May 28, 1954, he attended Union School, a wooden one-room schoolhouse, from first through fifth grades. He graduated from Winters High School in 1972, and was valedictorian of his senior class. Rominger attended UC Davis, and had earned two bachelor's degrees by 1978: one in Agricultural Science and Management, another in Agricultural Engineering. He also received a citation for being an outstanding engineering student.
He came home to work on the family farm, then named A.H. Rominger & Sons, in 1978, and took charge of the 2,000-acre wheat operation. While he was driving between fields one afternoon, in 1984, he noticed a frantic, crying young girl standing next to an irrigation canal. She was incoherent with grief, and Rominger thought her kitten had fallen into the water and become trapped under the bridge.
Without hesitation, he waded into the deep canal up to his chest and ducked down, feeling around in the murky water to try and find a cat's paw under the wooden partition -- only what he felt, to his shock, was a child's cold hand. Rominger had to submerge himself, bracing his boots flat against the partition, to generate enough force to free the unconscious child. The boy survived, and Rominger was awarded the California Attorney General's Certificate of Valor.
He joined the Yolo County Farm Bureau Board in 1985, and became involved in the California Association of Wheat Growers and joined the association's board in 1987. That same year he was selected as the California State winner of the National Soil and Water Conservation award and was named Yolo County's Outstanding Young Farmer.
In 1994, Rominger was named president of the California Association of Wheat Growers -- a position he held for two year-long, consecutive terms, during which time he made multiple trips to Washington D.C. to lobby on behalf of California farmers.
"Charlie's ideas were fresh, strong and always well conceived and delivered," says Craig McNamara, a close friend and Winters farmer. "He never shied away from saying what he truly believed, and he did it in a way that was both passionate and respectful of his audience."
Since 1999, when Rominger and his two brothers, Rick and Bruce, formed Rominger Brothers Farms Inc., they have tended about 3,500 acres of safflower, sunflowers, tomatoes, alfalfa, wheat, corn rice, and grapes. Rominger was also a co-founder in establishing Rominger West Winery in Davis with his friend and colleague Mark West, formerly chief winemaker of Saintsbury. About eight years ago, Rominger began growing wine grapes for select wineries in Sonoma, Alameda and Napa Valley; in late 2004 he and West began planning to establish a winery in Davis. The grand opening of the new winery will be held on October 28th.
Rominger is survived by his wife, Cairn, his daughter, Cienna, and his son, Aldo, all of Winters; his parents, Richard E. and Evelyne (Rowe) Rominger, both of Winters; his brother Rick and his wife Patricia of Winters; his sister Ruth Rominger and her husband Lars Tomanek of Morro Bay; his brother Bruce and his wife Robyn of Winters; and many aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to either the Charlie Rominger Farmland Preservation Fund, which has been established at the Yolo Land Trust, P. O. Box 1196, Woodland, CA 95776; or the Winters Friends of the Library, in memory of Charlie Rominger, 201 First Street, Winters, CA 95694.