Cowmunity Corner: A Tribute to Gene M. Benedetti
As we approach Memorial Day Weekend, our thoughts inevitably turn to the many brave men and women who have sacrificed in service to our country. One of those great heros was our own beloved founder, Gene M. Benedetti, whose bigger than life persona is indelibly ingrained in our minds and on our hearts. Though it has been a decade since his passing, Gene’s influence is still felt in Clover’s dedication to family and the local community.
Gene was born in 1919 to Italian immigrant parents in Sonoma, California and raised in nearby Cotati where he attended local schools and graduated from Petaluma High School. A gifted athlete and competitor, he became a football star at Petaluma High, Santa Rosa Junior College, and then at the University of San Francisco. He went on to attend Stanford University where he received his teaching degree.
When the United States joined the WWII effort, Gene heroically served as a Naval Lieutenant in the Atlantic Theater as a captain of a ship in five invasions including the D-Day landing and Omaha Beach. The experience would profoundly shape the rest of his life. Like many members of the Greatest Generation he looked to the future, not the past. “After Normandy, I never think about yesterday and I never worry about tomorrow,” Benedetti once said in an interview marking the D-Day invasion.
When he returned home Benedetti channeled his energies into raising a family with his wife, Evelyn, and making Sonoma County a better place to live. He taught and coached at Santa Rosa Junior College, and worked as the General Manager of the Petaluma Co-Operative Creamery. He was also the driving force behind the legendary Petaluma Leghorns, and coached the city’s powerhouse semi-pro football team for ten pre-TV years between 1948-1958.
When a devastating fire destroyed the Petaluma Co-Operative Creamery in 1975, and its board of directors decided not to rebuild, Gene took matters into his own hands. Together with then business partner, Al Stornetta, he established the new Clover Stornetta Farms processing plant in 1977. For the next nine years, Gene remained at the helm of the company where he continued to build the Clover brand and its ideals.
He was known by all who met him as an affable man with a ready hug and a firm handshake. He called his male friends, “buck,” and his female friends, “doll,” and people gravitated to his charm wherever he went. A fiercely patriotic man, he would lead the crowd in a rousing rendition of his favorite song, God Bless America, at Clover employee events.
When Clover needed a mascot, it was Gene who dreamed up the endearing image of Clo the Cow and launched the company’s wildly successful billboard campaign. Through the years Clo’s toothy grin and witty cow puns cemented her as Clover’s iconic “moo-lebrity,” and her image still resonates with fans of all ages today.
A leader in business and agriculture, Gene firmly believed that every business and every person should give back to the community. Following his example, Clover’s generous support of local events and causes has continued to be a foundational pillar of the company’s philosophy.
Three generations later current Clover President & CEO, Marcus Benedetti, remembers his grandfather as a man whose “charisma, drive, and character were a true testament to who he was. I am proud to say that Clover has kept his vision at the core of our values as a company.”
We miss you Gene. Thank you for your service to our country and your enduring example of a life well lived.