W. Arnold Kessler, a prominent Galt dairyman whose champion Guernsey cows have appeared at the California State Fair for more than 50 years, died July 14 of congestive heart failure, his family said. He was 89.
Born to farmers in Switzerland, Mr. Kessler continued the family tradition after immigrating to California a few years after World War II. In 1952, he formed Bay Meadow Farm, a dairy partnership, with his uncle, John Schmid, in Santa Clara. The family operation moved to Galt in 1957.
He made his name in the dairy industry with Guernsey bulls that sired many offspring. In addition to winning many trophies at national competitions, his dairy bulls won more championships at the State Fair than any other herds, according to a 2001 story in The Sacramento Bee.
A tribute to Mr. Kessler is planned at the fair this month, said Liz Sailors of the California Guernsey Cattle Club.
“Anytime you talk about California Guernsey cattle, the names Arnold Kessler and Bay Meadow Farm are always mentioned,” Sailors said. “He was a source of inspiration, and he had a lot of knowledge that he shared with many young people in dairy cattle.”
Mr. Kessler, who spoke no English when he arrived in the United States alone, built a successful business in a demanding industry with hard work. As a teenager in Switzerland, he cut hay in the Alps by hand with a sickle and carried heavy bales on his back.
The practice contributed to shoulder problems in later years, but he worked at Bay Meadow Farm until he was 88 and never complained.
“The dairy business is 24/7, and he loved it,” his son Walt said. “No hunting, no golfing, no hobbies – just work. It was his love and his passion.”
Walter Arnold Kessler was born March 19, 1925, near Gossau, Switzerland, to a family with several generations of farmers. With four sons in the family and little land, he left home in 1948 to build a life in America. Two of his brothers later emigrated and started farming in Canada.
Mr. Kessler was a quiet, unassuming man of old-world charm who appreciated family, community and simple pleasures. He employed many Swiss immigrants in his early years and gave them a start in California.
He was active in the dairy groups and belonged to the San Joaquin Valley Swiss Club. He enjoyed the waltz, which he danced with grace, and sang traditional music with the Swiss Echoes, a performing group.
“He was a great guy,” said Don Widmer of the San Joaquin Valley Swiss Club. “If you needed something, all you had to do was ask and he’d get it done. He was a very hard worker.”
Mr. Kessler had three children with his first wife, Betty, who died in 1995 after 43 years of marriage. He had been married since 1999 to his second wife, Hanna, who survives him.
In addition to his wife and his son Walt, he is survived by another son, John; a daughter, Laura; two brothers, Werner and Willi; stepchildren Stephen Sigrist and Linda Kinyon; and six grandchildren.
A celebration of Mr. Kessler’s life is set for 11 a.m. Aug. 1 at Henrickson Hall, 12746 Ivie Road, Herald.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the San Joaquin Valley Swiss Club – SJVSC Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 373, Ripon, CA 95366; or to Helvetia Verein Sacramento – c/o Kisers, 4150 Breuner Ave. Sacramento, CA 95819.
Call The Bee’s Robert D. Dávila, (916) 321-1077. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Davila.