Longtime rancher killed in helicopter crash

Published September 7, 2000, at RanchoMurieta.com

Longtime area rancher Stan Van Vleck was killed Thursday morning when the helicopter he was piloting crashed on his ranch, near Jackson Highway and Ione Road.

Van Vleck, 79, an avid pilot, operated the family farm and cattle ranch on thousands of acres east of Rancho Murieta, a ranch that has been in the family for four generations. The Van Vleck family is one of California’s pioneer cattle-ranching families, with roots dating to the time of the Gold Rush.

“He was interested in everything,” said Marion Cravens of Robles Grandes Drive, who got to know Van Vleck in the 1980s, during her time working as an official with the Community Services District. “He was an amazing guy, very humble, a real gentleman, a real historian.”

Stan Van Vleck really enjoyed people, said his son.

She said family was important to Van Vleck, who set up a memorial park on his ranch, honoring his father, and allowed families to camp and fish on the property

“Dad really enjoyed people,” said his son Stan. “He loved to have people experience the ranch,” including opening it up for groups as large as Boy Scout jamborees and military exercises.

Rancho Murieta’s wastewater-treatment plant was built adjacent to Van Vleck’s ranch.

“He was here first,” Cravens said. “He knew development was coming, and he worked with developers. His attitude was, ‘We’re neighbors and we’re friends.'” In addition to being friendly to those developing Rancho Murieta, she said he was a friend to the area’s family farmers.

“The world lost a tremendous good guy. He was good to everybody,” said Lee Lawrence, the CSD’s recently retired director of field operations. “Whether they agreed or disagreed with him, they’ve only got good memories.”

Lawrence said Van Vleck “fought for this community to grow.” In July, Van Vleck wrote an opinion piece in support of the Deer Creek Hills development that appeared in the Sacramento Business Journal.

He used his helicopter to herd cattle on the massive ranch, once telling an interviewer that his goal of checking every animal every day – which used to take a couple of people a full day on horseback – could be accomplished in less than an hour from the air. He was key in the founding of California Flying Farmers decades ago.

Van Vleck was involved in helicopter crashes in 1986, when his helicopter got snared in power lines in Sloughhouse and crashed, and again in 1993, when he crashed near Grant Line Road and Glory Lane. That one also involved power lines.

The crash that killed Van Vleck also downed power lines and started a grass fire, which consumed eight acres. The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the accident.

He is survived by his wife, Lynn, as well as three sons, Doug, Van and Stan, and a daughter, Valerie, and four grandchildren. The family will establish an agricultural scholarship in his name at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, and they ask that donations be made there in place of flowers. Burial will be at the ranch.