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Farewells to an arboretum founder and a couple married 67 years

Charlie and Felicia Colombo at the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania, circa 2004. They died within about seven hours of each other last month.
Charlie and Felicia Colombo at the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania, circa 2004. They died within about seven hours of each other last month. Colombos Family

This one involves some recent passings:

Margaret Sturtevant never lost sight of her dream. She spent more than two decades transforming some of the family’s orchard property along East Whitmore Avenue in Hughson into a place of peace and knowledge.

She envisioned a place where people could stroll the grounds and appreciate nature. She foresaw a small forest where schoolchildren could come to learn about various types of trees, plants and shrubbery. She saw it through to what exists today: 9 acres of all of the aforementioned, now surrounded by a wrought-iron fence and soon to have electronic entries.

None of this – what became the Hughson Arboretum and Gardens – would have happened if not for Sturtevant’s drive.

She and her husband, A. Judson Sturtevant, long ago bought the property. Judd Sturtevant, a radio broadcaster who also owned parts of numerous stations, died in 1996 – just two years after Margaret planted the arboretum’s first trees.

Margaret created a nonprofit entity in 2002, but became frustrated when the executive director hired a Seattle landscape architecture firm that came up with a design that would have cost $20 million.

So, in 2006, she took back the property and dissolved the nonprofit board. In 2010, she started all over again with a new nonprofit, a new board and a financially doable plan. She remained the driving force in every way possible, current board President Thom Clark said.

“The first time I took (board member) Craig Scott out to meet Margaret,” Clark said, “we went to the house and knocked on the door and nobody answered. I figured she was out in the arboretum. So we went out there and there she was, driving a 42-inch commercial mower like what the City of Hughson has. And she had to be in her 90s then. Margaret was amazing.”

Was, Clark said, because she died Saturday at 96 – a long life ended by a short illness. She looked lively and healthy during a “thank-you” event for contributors and supporters at the arboretum in September and attended the monthly board meeting in October. Her health began to decline shortly after that event.

“But that was the last time any of us saw her,” Clark said. “She wasn’t at the November meeting.”

The board at the September event re-emphasized its charter member fundraising effort that relies on 50 members committing $200 each per year to cover insurance, utilities and other operating expenses. It also relies on volunteers, including Modesto Junior College instructor Dale Pollard, who is the arborist and uses the arboretum as a classroom for his students.

The Sturtevant family donated to the arboretum metal plaques that will identify the various types of trees and bushes, and they can be installed once the remainder of the security measures are completed.

“We will miss our inspiration,” board member Scott said.

The other recent passings of note involve Charles and Felicia Colombo of Oakdale. They were married 67 years, with another anniversary due in April. Charles Colombo farmed almonds and walnuts in the Oakdale area before it was fashionable, but sold the orchards when he retired sometime around 1990, grandson Jamie Colombo said.

Felicia worked as a beautician for many years before becoming a stay-at-home mom and housewife. Charles, who turned 91 in October, suffered from dementia and had been in hospice care for about a month. At the same time Felicia, 88, developed a stomach ailment. She died at 6 p.m. Christmas Eve.

“I told him when I got there to see him that day,” Jamie Colombo said. Did knowing his wife had died allow Charles to go as well?

“It’s hard to figure out how bad the dementia was,” Jamie said, as to whether Charles had understood.

No matter.

Charles died seven hours later, around 1 a.m. Christmas Day.