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Patriarch of Beard business family dies

More than 200 businesses are located in the 2,000-acre
Beard Industrial District, which is owned by the Beard family. 
(Adrian Mendoza/ The Modesto Bee)
More than 200 businesses are located in the 2,000-acre Beard Industrial District, which is owned by the Beard family. (Adrian Mendoza/ The Modesto Bee)

Robert B. "Bob" Beard of Modesto, former chairman of the Beard Land and Investment Co. and descendant of Stanislaus County pioneers, has died.

Mr. Beard was with his family Sunday when he died at Doctors Medical Center. He was one day short of his 81st birthday.

"He was a thoughtful, sensitive and caring individual who was a very clear thinker," said his daughter Cathie Peck of Modesto. "He'll be remembered for being fair-minded and diplomatic."

He and other members of the Beard family have been Modesto business leaders for a century. The family controls the 2,000-acre Beard Industrial District, owns the Modesto & Empire Traction Co. short-line railroad, Beard Land Improvement Co., and several property and investment firms.

"Bob first started work for the companies in about 1939. He was 12 or 13 years old and in junior high, and worked on the ice docks in the days before refrigerated boxcars," according to a tribute to him printed for his retirement party in 1992.

Mr. Beard was elected to the Beard company's board of directors in 1954, began working for the company full time in 1959 and became board chairman in 1980. During his career, he also served as treasurer and vice president. He remained a board director until several years ago.

"Bob was involved in all aspects of the business, but his specialty was in the money end of it," said his cousin, Ken Beard Jr. "He was a very stabilizing influence on the company."

Daughter Peggy Drach of San Carlos recalled her father's calm nature.

"He never raised his voice or had a mean thing to say about anybody," Drach said. "He always found ways to solve problems. He was a very fair man with a (strong sense) of right and wrong. He was a great mentor."

Ken Beard said his cousin was inspiring in the way he persevered through decades of health problems.

After serving in the Army during World War II, Mr. Beard developed multiple sclerosis. As the chronic illness progressed, he went from limping, to needing a cane, to requiring a scooter to get around.

"He never ever complained," Drach said.

He lived a full life, including 60 years of marriage to Betty Kurtz Beard, who survives him. Besides Peck and Drach, he also is survived by daughter Christine Beard and brother Jim Beard, both of San Francisco.

Stanford and UC graduate

Mr. Beard graduated from Modesto High School in 1945. He attended Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley.

He founded and managed the Modesto Finance and Thrift Co., which he sold after 10 years.

During the 1970s, he served on the Memorial Hospital board of directors and on the Council of the Yosemite Boy Scouts. He belonged to the Lyons 500 Club and Modesto Rotary.

He was the son of the late John and Helen Beard. John Beard preceded him as board chairman for the Beard companies.

His great-grandfather, Elihu Burritt Beard, settled in Waterford during the Gold Rush. He farmed the land and fed the horde of gold miners. He was one of the region's first school superintendents. Modesto's Beard Elementary School is named for him.

Mr. Beard's grandparents were T.K. and Grace Ada Beard, who had 10 children. One hundred years ago, the family built the Modesto Interurban Railway, running between Modesto and Empire. That short line became the M&ET.

T.K. Beard and his family had a construction company during the early 1900s. That company employed up to 1,000 men to build miles of Modesto and Turlock canals, the Modesto Reservoir, Turlock Lake, Goodwin Dam, Woodward Reservoir as well as canals for the South San Joaquin and Oakdale Irrigation Districts.

Beard family members continued working together throughout the 20th century. They founded the Beard Land and Investment Co. in 1926. They started buying land around the railroad in the 1940s to develop the Beard Industrial District, which is served by the M&ET.

The district now is home to more than 100 businesses, including E.&J. Gallo Winery, Frito-Lay, Del Monte, Stanislaus Food Products, Sciabica olive oil, Nestlé Food and Central Valley Agricultural Grinding.

The Beards also developed several early Modesto residential areas, including the airport and La Loma neighborhoods. To serve those homes, the family created the Del Este Water Co., which it ran until 1995.

Family-owned Beard holdings include industrial property development and leasing companies called 1450 Treat Blvd Inc., 7603 St. Andrews Avenue LLC and Camp Court LLC.

Running all the companies is a board of directors that includes Beard family members descending from eight of T.K. Beard's 10 children. Ken Beard III, great-grandson of T.K. is the only family member now working full time for the companies.

"But the board of directors still is made up of all family members, so the family still is running things whether they're in the office every day or not," said Peck, one of Mr. Beard's daughters. She said there is "no talk of selling" the family business.

Ken Beard Jr. agreed: "The intent is to continue operating as a family business. There truly seems to be an ingrained desire in the family to perpetuate the company."

A reception honoring Mr. Beard is planned from 2 to 5 p.m. Jan. 10 at his Modesto home. Arrangements are being made by Franklin and Downs.

Remembrances may be made to The Salvation Army, Gallo Center for the Arts and the Modesto Symphony Orchestra.

Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at or 578-2196.