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Jack Thomson (1922-2021): Farmer helped establish State Water Project, served on various local boards

It was just like Buttonwillow farmer Jack Thomson to ask for a new wheelbarrow for his 94th birthday.

Here was a man who'd done for others his whole life — a founding member of the Kern County Water Agency who helped bring Northern Californian water to Kern County, a volunteer for countless local causes, the man neighborhood kids came to for help shearing their sheep before the county Fair — who even in his sunset years refused to stop working.

"He was a real doer, you know?" son Tim Thomson recalled Friday. "And when he saw something that needed to be done, he didn't reflect a whole lot on it. He just went ahead and did it. And he was kind of that way his whole life."

Thomson, former president of the Kern County Farm Bureau and one-time member of the California Water Commission, died Feb. 24 from kidney failure at age 98, his family said.

Born April 2, 1922 in Oil Center near Bakersfield, Thomson spent much of his childhood helping farm cotton, sugar beets and alfalfa on his grandfather's farm in Buttonwillow. Later he attended Bakersfield College and transferred to the University of California, Davis before joining the U.S. Navy and serving as a pilot and bombardier-trainer in the Pacific Ocean theater during World War II.

But it was back home in Kern County, after he finished up at UC Davis, where Thomson made his most notable impacts.

As their daughter Sylvia Cattani recalled, Jack Thomson served as a school board member, a board member of his church and a local civil service commissioner, among other positions. Later he helped build a pond and much of the infrastructure at California Living Museum, not for money but because he wanted to pitch in.

"He was always thinking about things he could do for others," she said. "He was a very unselfish man."

He switched from raising livestock in Buttonwillow to growing rice there after first leaching salt out of the ground. Eventually he expanded into cotton, alfalfa, vegetables, melons and tomatoes.

Before long he started farming his wife's family's property near Arvin. To get back and forth between the two farms he would fly his small, single-engine airplane.

As a KCWA member Thomson was instrumental in helping establish the State Water Project, which originally brought about 1 million acre-feet of water per year.

Tim Thomson said his dad traveled with other agency officials to the Feather River to meet with local residents tired of the area's frequent floods. The Kern delegation was able to convince people there that a dam would help address the situation, and thus was born one of the primary sources of Kern County's irrigation water.

Thomson was interred Friday. He is survived by his sister, Barbara Wyant, and his children and their spouses: Tim Thomson and wife Jan, Wendy Hoss and husband Vince, Sylvia Cattani and husband Arnold, as well as daughter-in-law Elaine Thomson, Jason Peltier and wife Jean Mari, Julie Peltier and Stacey Peltier. His wife, Mary Lou Frick Thomson, died in 2016.

He is also survived by his grandchildren Karen Thomson, Jack Thomson and wife Hallie, Annie Baisden and husband Brett, Nancy Anspach and husband Paul, Emmy Cattani and husband Robert Stevenson, Katie Cattani and husband Chad DeRose, Laura Cattani, Theodore Hoss, Christopher Hoss, Jill Thomson and husband Jeff Crump, Kristen Stipicevic and husband Stip, Matthew Thomson and fiancée Nicolette Eyherabide, Joe Peltier and wife Suzie and Jean Claire Peltier.

He had 15 great-grandchildren: Jack Clinton Thomson, Laighton Thomson, John Asher Thomson, Joaquin DeRose, Magdalena DeRose, Luciana DeRose, Clinton Anspach, Brynn Anspach, Lauren Anspach, Luke Jeffry Baisden, Zoe Baisden, Lucy Anspach, Hazel Anspach, Quinn Crump and Gavin Timothy Crump.

An audio recording of a nearly 40-minute interview of Thomson by his granddaughter Laura Cattani can be found online at