Bob Monagan Remembering Jack Veneman

(Editor’s Note: The following says volumes about both men. The introductory comments are by Gabrielle Morris who interviewed Monagan for his 1982 oral history.)

Robert Monagan kindly agreed to inclusion of the following brief remarks he made at the memorial service for former Assemblyman John Veneman, held on April 13, 1982, at the Congregational Church in Modesto.

Mr. Veneman had agreed to discuss his own experience in the state Assembly in the Regional Oral History Office, and particularly his key role in the 1971 attempts to reform costly state welfare programs, but was unable to schedule an interview before his untimely death:

Jack’s sobriquet, “The Peach Farmer from Empire,” for which he became known, of course, was a badge of honor in this community. But when he arrived in the Capitol City it was greeted with if not question or derision at least with suspicion. It was thought that he would never create much of a stir.

It did not take long for that to be dispelled. Another distinguished Modestoan, Ralph Brown, who Jack succeeded, had been replaced as Speaker of the Assembly by Jess Unruh, who thought so little of Jack at that time that he wouldn’t appoint him to any committees. Jack with the help of a small group of which he was an immediate part, The Young Turks, won that confrontation.

As a penalty, he was appointed to do penance as a member of the lightly-regarded Assembly Committee on Health and Welfare. Unfortunately for the Speaker, but fortunately for all of us, it served as a spring board for Jack’s talents, leading him to be one of our nation’s top experts in these two critical public policy areas.

He brought to bear on all of his endeavors the same attributes he had learned from planting, irrigating, fertilizing, pruning and picking in the orchard. These peach- farmer experiences had enriched him with qualities of preparation, hard work, and perception, all of which he utilized in dealing with state and national problems with which he had immense responsibility.

Our loss is great but our sadness is tempered by our joyous association and memories of Jack. Our community, state and nation’s loss of one of our outstanding citizens is also tempered by the great legacy of public service he has left. As huge as his personal contributions were, far more significant is the example and challenge for public service he has left for those who will follow.

Each of us had a different relationship with Jack. Mine was very close and very personal. We shared living accommodations in Sacramento during the years we served there together. It was my standard, in-public joke with him that he hadn’t yet paid his share of the rent on our apartment.

Mine or his home away from home was each others’ Washington, Sacramento, Tracy, or Modesto or wherever it was is where we hung our hats .

Other than my personal family, he was the closest person to me. More than a friend he was like my brother.


Filed under: California History

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