Neil Kenneth Groefsema died peacefully on June 9 at his home in Merced, Calif., surrounded by his family. He was just shy of his 93rd birthday.

Ken was born in Spring City, Tenn. on July 22, 1922 to Clay and Virginia Groefsema. He was raised on the family homestead in Mountain Home, Idaho. After losing his parents at the age of 10, Ken was raised by his extended family. He graduated from Mountain Home High School in 1940 and enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley that fall, where he began his studies in agricultural sciences and played football and rugby for the Bears. In 1943 he enlisted in the naval officer training program, after which he became a captain of a rescue boat and was ultimately stationed on Martha’s Vineyard, where there was a military flight training school. The significance of this assignment is that it was on that Island that he met a local young lady named Priscilla Ann Bunker, whom he married in 1946. He and Priscilla were married for almost 62 years until she preceded him in death in 2008.

Upon his discharge from the Navy, Ken and Priscilla returned to Berkeley to complete his studies, and he graduated in 1948. And though his humility and character kept him from talking much about his athletic accomplishments at Cal in football and rugby, Ken was a proud member of Pappy’s Boys and was honored to have been on the great Pappy Waldorf’s first football team at Cal in 1947, when they went 9-1 after being 2-7 in the prior year under a different coach. Ken was the 1946 winner of Cal’s Andy Smith Memorial Award for most minutes played in conference games.

Ken and Priscilla had five children, Clay, Bruce, Anne, Sue, and Leigh, who have always been proud to have been his children.

A descendent of several generations of farmers, Ken continued the family tradition upon graduation from Cal and devoted his lifetime to California agriculture. He spent much of his career with the Newhall Land and Farming Company where he ultimately became the senior vice president for agriculture and oversaw Newhall’s diversified farming operations on 10 ranches throughout California. By the time he retired from Newhall in 1982, he had long been personally investing in California farmland that he began to farm and manage himself. Having raised his children to believe in the future of California agriculture, he provided them all with the opportunity to be involved in the ranches and other than his children, his most proud legacy is undoubtedly the successful farming operations he helped to build and pass on to his next generations.

A man of principle, Ken Groefsema believed in personal responsibility and hard work to accomplish whatever goal was in front of him. Combining his inner strength, determination and dedication with his work ethic, he was indeed successful. He taught his children not so much with what he had to say, but rather how he lived his life. He has been a role model for all of the current three generations that are following him.

Ken leaves behind his five children: Clay Groefsema and his wife Jan, Bruce Groefsema and his wife Gail, Anne Hurd and her husband Chris, Sue Jones and her husband Mark, and Leigh Beermann. He also leaves behind 16 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren.

Ken’s services will be held on Wednesday, June 24 at 1 p.m. at the Central Presbyterian Church. 1920 Canal Street, Merced, Calif., 95340. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that remembrances be made to the Central Presbyterian Church; the Pacific Legal Foundation. 930 G Street, Sacramento, Calif 95814; Hinds Hospice, 410 W. Main Street, Merced, Calif 95340.; or your favorite charity.