The Cambrian

Former county Cattleman of the Year Vernon Soto, 88, of Cambria dies

Vernon Soto, 88 — lifelong Cambria rancher, member of a pioneer family that arrived on the North Coast in the 1850s and the county’s 1999 Cattleman of the Year — died at home Tuesday, Nov. 26.

The sixth-generation Californian had been a board member of the county Cattlemen’s Association and a strong supporter of the Mid-State Fair’s Beef Replacement Heifer Project and Livestock Support Group.

Soto’s ancestors came to San Francisco with D’Anza’s expedition in 1776. General Soto lived in the Green Valley area prior to 1860 and then homesteaded 160 acres in Adelaide (nicknamed “Dry Bones” after all the animal skeletons there from the dramatic drought of the 1860s). His son Cipriano Soto went to work at the Hearst Ranch in 1887, becoming trusted coachman for Phoebe Apperson Hearst.

Vernon Soto was born in a San Luis Obispo birthing center and raised in Cambria. He went to grammar school at the one-room Mammoth Rock Schoolhouse at the upper end of Santa Rosa Creek. He attended Coast Joint Union High School.

He married Althea Smithers 68 years ago. After the wedding, friends threw an old-fashioned shivaree for them in the Olmstead Schoolhouse in Green Valley.

The young couple started out milking cows in Green Valley, and then went into raising beef cattle. The Soto children were born in Green Valley. (Daughter Shirlene Ann Soto and husband Walter were killed in a 2009 auto accident.)

Vernon and Althea Soto later bought the ranchland on which the long-gone Mammoth Rock school had stood.

A memorial service for Vernon Soto is planned at 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 14, at Santa Rosa Catholic Church, 1174 Main St., Cambria. A luncheon is to follow in the church hall.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that any donations go to the Old Santa Rosa Chapel in Cambria where Vernon Soto was baptized, as were the other members of his family.