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Stokes siblings a dynamic team Thornton family balances agriculture, community service

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Posted: Monday, May 6, 2013 7:17 am

Two brothers and a sister in Thornton are busy farming in three counties, yet they find the time to be involved in small local boards, raise money for charity and participate in community activities.

Sharon, Bill and Mike Stokes are the fourth generation of Stokes farmers in southeast of Thornton. They won’t say how many acres they own, but they grow grapes, cherries, apples, grain and dairy feed in San Joaquin, Sacramento and Yolo counties. Sharon Stokes does the office work for the family operation.

The Stokes’ maternal grandmother, Ramona Dawson, settled with her parents north of the Stokes dairy in 1919. She married their grandfather, also named Bill Stokes. Dawson had the distinction of being Galt High’s valedictorian in the mid-1930s, when she was only 16 years old.

Their grandfather, Bill Stokes, originally had a dairy on Woodbridge Road, and from the 1950s to the 1970s he operated a small farm supply store on Ray Road.

“It was kind of a gathering place, too,” Sharon Stokes said. “The old-timers still tell me how much they miss the store.”

Bill and Ramona Stokes managed the old Thornton Hotel in the 1950s and operated a gas station at the corner of Woodbridge and Ray roads.

Meanwhile, Sharon Stokes, 51, Bill, 49, and Mike, 47, went to St. Anne’s School and graduated from Lodi High. Sharon and Bill were active in 4-H, and then Future Farmers of America at Lodi High. Sharon has an Associate of Arts degree from Cosumnes River College in Sacramento; her brothers didn’t complete college.Farming takes up a majority of the Stokes family’s time, but they somehow manage to be involved in several community activities.

Bill Stokes is on four local boards — the Woodbridge Irrigation District, which includes the Thornton area; Reclamation District 348, which maintains the Mokelumne River levees in the Thornton area; the Thornton Rural Fire District; and the Community Business Bank, where he serves on the executive and loan committees.

Woodbridge Irrigation is probably the most sound special district in the county, Bill Stokes said.

“It’s probably the most balanced board I’ve ever been on. Everyone’s on the same page. The board knows everything that’s going on,” he said.

Mike Stokes serves on the Thornton Community Advisory Council, a group of Thornton residents who make recommendations to San Joaquin County officials . He is a 17-year board member with the Lodi Boys and Girls Club as well as Reclamation District 556, which oversees flood-control issues on Upper Andrus Island. He also helps coach the Farm Power team with the Lodi High FFA, and serves on the Lodi District Grape Growers Association board.

Mike Stokes’ wife, Wendy, serves on Restore the Delta, a group working to preserve the area’s sustainability in light of the controversial Peripheral Canal proposal.

Sharon Stokes is involved in more non-agricultural activities. She is past president of the Thornton Community Center Advisory Council, which is a different organization than the Thornton MAC that her brother, Mike, serves on. The community center coundil is a seven-member group that addresses serving the needy in Thornton and western Acampo.

Sharon Stokes is also a member of the county chapter of the United Cerebral Palsy board; treasurer for the county chapter of Guitars Not Guns, which teaches at-risk youths how to play the guitar, to give them a healthy activity to enjoy; a charter member of Hospice of San Joaquin’s Butterfly Auxiliary; and treasurer of the Woodbridge Grange. Decades ago, the Grange was involved in agricultural issues, but it no longer is. She is also active at Vinewood Community Church in Lodi.

How do Sharon, Mike and Bill Stokes have time to participate in so many community activities when they have a large farming operation to run?

“It has to go back to our parents (Tom and Sandy Stokes),” Sharon said. “We were raised with the mindset of giving back to the community.”

It seems that there will be enough Stokes children to keep the farming operation alive for at least another generation, though Bill Stokes firmly believes that their children should work for a different employer before returning to the family farm.

Bill Stokes says working for an employer outside the family it will give their children a work ethic after they get out of school. Sharon says they can learn what makes good and bad managers, and about interpersonal relationships and accountability with a different employer.

“They can see the real world and how it operates,” Mike Stokes said.

Sharon Stokes and her husband, Mark Medeiros, have two children, two step-children and a grandchild, Mike and Wendy Stokes have a son and daughter, while Bill and Lisa Stokes have two daughters.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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