South of Market resident Lorrae Rominger, who serves as deputy director of the Goldman Environmental Prize, recently purchased the farmhouse she grew up on, which her family had sold decades ago. She plans to retire there eventually.
In 1948 Rominger’s grandparents built the house in Winters, California, a small town in Yolo County. Her father grew up there, as did Rominger during her early years. Her family moved out in the 1960s. They sold the property to a family friend “40 or 50 years ago,” according to Rominger.
Several years ago she wrote the friend a letter telling her she wanted to purchase the house if it ever went back on the market. When the friend fell ill earlier this year, Rominger bought her family’s house back.
The friend had been a significant part of the Rominger family’s life. The Shirley Rominger Intermediate School in Winters is named after Rominger’s mother. The friend was “…instrumental to get the school to be named after my mother,” said Rominger. “Winters is a very small town and everybody knows everybody.”
Rominger’s mother had been on the board of another Winters school for 15 years. The elementary school was built when she passed away in 2000 due to a brain tumor. “The local newspaper had a naming contest, and my mother’s name got the most votes,” Rominger said, mentioning that the friend influenced many people’s votes. “They were very good friends.”
She plans to refurbish the house, and live there after she retires. “The house hasn’t had any work done since 1948, so you can imagine it’s going to need some tender loving care,” Rominger said. She’d written “Lorrae Rominger, first grade, Union School” in “blackish-purple” crayon on the garage’s redwood wall when she was six years old. Her signature is still visible today. “This house has a lot of meaning to me,” she said.
Rominger “spent a lot of time with her grandparents growing up,” and still goes to Winters most weekends to “hang out with [her] dad and his dogs. My father has been farming for 85 years. He’s pretty much a man of the soil. We used to tease him that his veins were full of soil, not blood.”
Rominger’s father grows conventional and organic tomatoes, as well as sunflowers, safflower, oat hay, and alfalfa. “We really believe farming is not just a job; it’s a way of life,” Rominger said.
Rominger worked on the farm every summer with her sister, two brothers, and 13 first cousins. She was the oldest out of the 17 of them. She moved away in 1974 when she graduated from college and got married.
“I kind of helped keep my family together and helped continue my family’s tradition,” Rominger said.
Rominger recently wrote a book, The Rangity Tango Kids, about her experience growing up on the farm; she’s looking for a publisher for it. “The book is a story about what it was like growing up on a farm in the ‘50s and ‘60s in rural California, riding on motorcycles and skiing in the canal,” Rominger said.
The book’s title comes from a nickname one of the farmworkers gave Rominger, her siblings, and her cousins when they were children. “One of the farmworkers had built us this incredible tree fort. We used to play in this tree fort and swing off it,” Rominger said. “He said we all ran around like a bunch of orangutans.”
The book’s cover depicts her father’s “shooting desk,” which has been in the farm’s fields for years and remains there today. “The desk sits up in the field where my dad rides around with his dog…in the back of my Dad’s land where he used to plant barley and wheat.” Her father uses the desk for target practice.
“I’ve lived in big cities, and I think I’ve been to 80 countries but I have to tell you, there’s no place I’d rather be than on that farm with my family riding around in the pickup truck with my Dad and his dogs,” said Rominger, who has lived in New York and Los Angeles. “There’s no place like home.”