Alumni Richard and Evelyne Rominger, who for decades have played prominent roles in the community and in statewide and national agriculture, have been selected to receive the UC Davis Medal, the highest honor the university presents to an individual.
Acting Chancellor Ralph J. Hexter will present the medals to the Romingers during a June 9 gala dinner at the Hyatt Regency Sacramento.
“Rich and Evelyne Rominger have given generously to UC Davis of their time, talents and resources,” Hexter said. “Their loyalty and passion for seeing students flourish and their alma mater grow and prosper is an inspiration for all of us in the Aggie family.”
The Romingers, who live in Winters, will speak June 10 during the 9 a.m. commencement ceremony of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
First presented in 2002, the UC Davis Medal has previously been awarded to 15 individuals, recognizing the very highest levels of distinction, personal achievement and contributions to the ideals of higher education on which UC Davis is founded.
UC Davis a family affair for Romingers
Few families are as deeply rooted in UC Davis and California agriculture as Richard and Evelyne Rominger.
They proudly note that in 1909, both of their fathers attended the first Picnic Day, UC Davis’ trademark spring open house. Rich, as he is known to most people, tells that his dad, Albert Rominger, pedaled a bicycle several miles through the countryside to be part of the inaugural event.
Evelyne’s father, John O. Rowe, graduated from UC Davis in 1913, and her uncle, John Rogers, was the first UC Davis farm superintendent, who in 1906 unlocked the gate to the newly acquired 780-acre farm that would become the Davis campus. She and her three brothers all attended UC Davis.
Fateful campus convergence
The Cal Aggie Marching Band — now often referred to as the “Band-uh!” — brought the Rowe and Rominger families together in 1947. Evelyne was the majorette for the then all-male band, and Rich was a front-row trombone player.
“He was the shyest guy in the band; and I thought he was so handsome,” said Evelyne.
Rich attended his freshman year at Sacramento Junior College because UC Davis was closed during World War II and then served 14 months in the Navy before the war ended. He played third base on the Aggie baseball team and became a member of Alpha Zeta, the national agricultural honor society. He graduated summa cum laude in 1949 from UC Davis, majoring in agronomy and earning a bachelor’s degree in plant sciences, and then returned to help run the family farm near Winters.
Evelyne, intent on obtaining a “broad general education,” served as editor of the Cal Aggie newspaper during the 1949-50 school year. When Knowles Ryerson, dean of the College of Agriculture, returned to UC Davis after the war, he wanted the campus to be more involved internationally and sent Evelyne and other students to the World Affairs Council conference at Asilomar. She later became vice president of the student World Affairs Council and a member of Cal Club, established by UC President Robert Gordon Sproul to include student leaders from all UC campuses.
She transferred to UC Berkeley for her senior year so that in 1951 she could graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, history and journalism. At the time, UC Davis offered only a Bachelor of Science degree in that area.
Jerry Brown and Bill Clinton came calling
Rich and Evelyne married in 1951 and had three sons, Richard, Charlie and Bruce, and one daughter, Ruth. The boys all graduated from UC Davis; Ruth began at UC Davis but graduated from UC San Diego. The Romingers also have four granddaughters and three grandsons.
In 1977, recognizing Rich’s agricultural leadership at the regional and state level, Gov. Jerry Brown appointed him to head the California Department of Food and Agriculture. He served as the agency’s director until 1982.
In 1993, Rich was appointed by President Bill Clinton to become deputy secretary and chief operating officer of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In that post, among many other duties, he oversaw establishment of national standards for organic farming.
After an eight-year stint in Washington, D.C., he and Evelyne returned to Winters, where their sons and nephews were running the 6,000-acre family farm along with Rich’s brother, Don Rominger, who also had attended UC Davis.
Legacy of public service
Through the years, UC Davis has benefited from the Romingers’ commitment to public service and love for agriculture. Rich serves as an adviser for the chancellor’s office, the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and the Agricultural Sustainability Institute. He previously was also an adviser to the UC Agricultural Issues Center at UC Davis and the Yolo County Water Resources Board.
In 2004, the Cal Aggie Alumni Association appointed him to serve two years as its representative to the UC Board of Regents, and he has been a member of the UC Davis Foundation Board.
He also serves on the University of California President’s Advisory Commission on Agriculture and Natural Resources, and the California Roundtable on Agriculture and the Environment, and is a liaison between UC and the agricultural community.
Evelyne was appointed in 1962 by Gov. Edmund G. “Pat” Brown to serve on the Commission of the Californias and has been active in several area health associations. She has been a lifelong advocate for gender equality and social justice issues, serving as a founding board member of the Yolo County Mental Health Association and chair of the California Conference for Comprehensive Health Planning.
She was the first president of the Nelson Art Friends, a group supporting the first art gallery at UC Davis, and she presided over the dedication of the first Arneson Egghead sculpture near the entrance of Shields Library.
She is a founding board member of the Lincoln Council, which supports the National Agricultural Library and has been an active volunteer with many area civic groups.
Giving and receiving honors
In 1978, Rich received the Cal Aggie Alumni Association’s Jerry W. Fielder Memorial Award in recognition of his service to UC Davis. In 1989, he and Evelyne jointly received the Award of Distinction from the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and in 2003 they were honored as Picnic Day parade grand marshals. They also are members of the UC Davis Chancellor’s Club.
After their son Charlie died in 2006, the Romingers along with the family of the late animal science professor Eric Bradford established the Bradford/Rominger Agricultural Sustainability Leadership Award, given each year by the UC Davis Agricultural Sustainability Institute.
Picnic Day is still a priority
Picnic Day is a must-save date on the Romingers’ calendar, and they are frequently on campus for events at the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts. They continue to be ardent advocates for UC Davis, officially and among their wide circle of friends and family.
“Over the years, quite a few people went to UC Davis because we told them to,” Evelyne said. “It’s still a great place to go, no matter what you study, with more majors, and graduate and professional programs, than any other UC campus.”