James G. "Jim" Van Maren, a fourth-generation Citrus Heights resident who was a longtime agriculture industry lobbyist, died Monday after a lengthy illness, his family said. He was 84.
Mr. Van Maren was a prominent civic activist and historian of Citrus Heights, where his great-grandfather, Dutch immigrant Peter Van Maren, settled by 1854. Proud of his roots, he lived modestly for many years in a home that he built in 1954 on land that was part of his inheritance and devoted his life to preserving the town's history.
He was a former president and longtime member of the Citrus Heights Historical Society. He collected many historical photos and documents, which he used to produce a history of Citrus Heights for Arcadia Publishing last year.
With a gracious manner and a gift for storytelling, he also spoke from personal experience about the town's growth from open fields and abundant wildlife to subdivisions and shopping centers.
"In the early '30s, I would take my wagon and go out into the fields," he told The Bee in 1985. "There was a hill that I could coast down. On one side of the hill was a vineyard, on the other a great expanse of land with an oak tree.
"Today, the hill has been graded away, and the field is full of houses. Only the oak tree remains."
Mr. Van Maren was influential on state issues as head of agriculture for the California Chamber of Commerce from 1969 to 1990. He worked with Govs. Pat Brown, Ronald Reagan and Jerry Brown on statewide water, land use and farming and ranching policy.
He lobbied lawmakers on farm labor relations and the state's landmark Williamson Act to preserve farmland. He coordinated the Agricultural Roundtable, a weekly gathering of production industry leaders, and advised federal officials on immigration reform.
James Guy Van Maren was born in 1927 in Citrus Heights to Guy and Iva Van Maren. He grew up with a brother and sister in 14 Mile House, a rest stop between Sacramento and the gold fields that was built in 1850 and is considered the oldest wooden structure in Sacramento County.
He graduated from San Juan High School and was a Navy electrician in the Pacific during the last days of World War II. He later was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Navy ROTC program at San Jose State University.
He ran a dairy for several years and was a milk production analyst for the state Food and Agriculture Department. He joined the California Milk Producers Federation as an economist and rose to executive director. In 1965, he moved to Los Angeles for four years to lead the Protected Milk Producers Association.
Mr. Van Maren was married for 56 years and had three children with the former Shirley Elizabeth Vaughn. They opened the Alphabet Ranch child care center in Citrus Heights and were active members of Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church. His wife died in 2005.
As Citrus Heights grew from a rural outpost to bustling suburb, "He moved with it," said his daughter Catherine Anderson. "For him, it was all an evolution, and he saw it happen from beginning to the end."
James 'Jim' Van Maren
Born: Dec. 13, 1927
Died: Nov. 12, 2012
Survived by: Children, Catherine Anderson of Granite Bay, Constantina Todd of Redlands and James Van Maren Jr. of Loomis; sister, Cat Robinson of Orangevale; 12 grandchildren; and three great-grandsons
Services: 11 a.m. Saturday at Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church, 11427 Fair Oaks Blvd., Fair Oaks
Remembrances: In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Citrus Heights Rotary.