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Sunday, June 16, 2002

Buck family enjoyed much success

Sabine Goerke-Shrode

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Frank Jr. a congressman, hometown hero

Vacaville’s Buck family was familiar with success.

Two sons were born to Frank H. Buck Sr. and Annie Elizabeth Stevenson: Frank Henry Jr., born on Sept. 23, 1887, and Leonard William Buck, born Aug. 11, 1891.

Both sons pursued a professional career. Frank became a lawyer in San Francisco and Leonard studied to become a medical doctor. Both believed that they had an obligation to be a productive member of society, despite personal wealth or position.

On April 18, 1911, Frank Buck Jr. married Zayda Justine Zabriskie. They had four children: Frank H. Buck III, born in 1912; Margaret Ann, born in 1913; Christian Brevoorte, born in 1914; and Edward Zabriskie Elvis, born in 1917.

The couple later divorced. Frank Buck married Eva M. Benson in 1926. They had two children, William Benson and Carol.

With the death of Frank H. Buck Sr. in 1916, and four years later, that of Annie Buck, their sons inherited the large fortune and land holdings of the family in equal shares. Frank H. Buck Jr. took control of the Buck Co. He also inherited Bucktown and the ranch where today the California Medical Facility is located. The family home on Buck Avenue went to Leonard Buck and his wife, Beryl Elizabeth Hamilton.

Like his father before him, Frank Jr. was actively involved in many organizations. In 1922, he was the head of the newly founded California Grower’s and Shipper’s Protective League. Within a short time, nearly 85 percent of California’s deciduous growers had joined this organization. Under Frank Buck’s strong leadership, the league won many battles with railroads and fruit brokers.

His success in leading the California Grower’s and Shipper’s Protective League became the founding stone for his political career.

The depression, soil erosion, labor unrest and strong competition from growers in the Central Valley led to the near collapse of the fruit industry in Solano County in the early 1930s.

In 1933, 47 years after its founding, the Buck Co. was bought up by the Pacific Fruit Exchange, though the ranches continued to be operated by the family. The Reporter wrote on Jan. 20, 1933: “The Pacific Fruit Exchange, one of the leading fruit selling and shipping organizations of Northern California, will handle the shipping and sales accounts of the Frank H. Buck Co., as well as the shipments of fruit from the individual ranches of Frank H. Buck and his brother, Dr. Leonard Buck, of Vacaville.”

That same year, Frank Buck Jr. won his seat as the Congressional Representative for the third district, encompassing Solano, Napa, San Joaquin, Sacramento and Yolo counties - a seat he would retain until his death in 1942. He defeated his opponent Charles Forrest Curry, a republican, in a sensational race by 16,462 votes.

The Vacaville Chamber of Commerce hosted a farewell dinner for him in January 1933. The Reporter recorded the event on Jan. 20. Frank Buck thanked the more than 100 supporters and “called attention to the fact, however, that he was only one of 435 congressmen, but he assured his hearers that he would do his utmost to carry out his pledges, and he hoped to secure committee appointments that would enable him to be of service to the state and nation. “... He spoke of the Mare Island navy yard, and promised to do his utmost to maintain it at its highest efficiency, ... ” He also reassured his constituents that he would represent their agricultural interests in Washington.

And indeed, he was able to fulfill his promises throughout his political career. A New Deal democrat, he played an important role in the Roosevelt administration and became a leading advocate for California farmers.

He was re-elected by wide margins in election after election, until, on Sept. 17, 1942, Frank H. Buck Jr. died of an apoplectic stroke in the Garfield Hospital in Washington, D.C.

The Reporter listed some of his accomplishments on Sept. 25: “As a Congressman, he was the author of an act strengthening the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act of 1930; a bill reducing the internal revenue tax on wines by 50 percent; one of the bills to provide for the development of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and their tributaries under the federal government as the Central Valleys Authorities; a bill providing for the construction of a new $3,500,000 dry dock at Mare Island Naval yard; the National Timber Adjustment Act; a bill amending the plant quarantine law, and a law demanding the inspection of plants shipped by mail as well as those shipped by common carrier.

“He was the floor leader in charge of a bill taxing illicit dealings in marijuana, and directing the fight made by the California delegation on behalf of the Central Valley project in the 75th Congress.

“As a member of the Ways and Means Committee, he took part in framing the Social Security Act, the railway retirement pension tax law and the revenue laws of 1935, 1936 and 1937.”

His body was brought back to Vacaville and the funeral took place Monday afternoon on Sept. 28, 1942, at the family plot in the Vacaville-Elmira cemetery.

“Hundreds of friends from every corner of the 3rd Congressional District attended the funeral services…” according to the Reporter on Oct. 2.

His widow, Eva “Benny” Buck, continued to live on the ranch, which was later sold to the state. After Frank’s death, Leonard and Beryl Buck, whose main residence was in Marin County, deeded the Buck home on Buck Avenue to Eva and her children. They felt that it would be more convenient for Eva to live in town.

John Rico, publisher of the Vacaville Reporter, was quoted on the news of Frank H. Buck’s death, saying: “Mr. Buck made it his duty to pay the Reporter a visit whenever he was in Vacaville. I spoke to him a few days before the August primary, and during the course of the conversation, he referred to his political opponents as ‘my good friends.’ That is why Mr. Buck traveled far on the road to success - he classed everyone as a friend. Perhaps never again will Vacaville be honored by having a hometown boy reach the pinnacle of success accomplished by Mr. Buck.”