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December 21, 2004 > Museum of Local History Exhibits Kimber Memorabilia

Museum of Local History Exhibits Kimber Memorabilia

by Praveena Raman

An exhibit honoring Fremont's Kimber family and their legacy is currently at the Museum of Local History, 190 Anza Street, Fremont. The memorabilia will be on display through January. This exhibit will take Fremont's old timers on a walk down memory lane and give newcomers a good idea of how the Kimberwood area of Mission San Jose used to be in the 1940s through the 1980s. Community members will also learn about the impact that KimberChik farms had in the medical world with regard to vaccines and in the area of genetic research.

At Mission Hills Tennis Club, which used to be the Kimberwoods Tennis Club and a part of the Kimber property, one can often see a man with a shock of white hair and a bright friendly smile intently and agilely playing tennis. Seeing Art Kimber return serves on the tennis court, it would be hard to believe that he just turned 80 a few months ago. It would also be just as hard to believe that he started playing tennis only fifteen years ago at the age of 65. "Tapi Kashyap was the one who coached me and made me passionate about tennis," said Art with a smile referring to his friend Tapeshwar Kashyap another avid tennis player. Art's wife Joan agrees that he is passionate about tennis. "He told me that he loves tennis more than food and he loves food," she said with a smile.

Part of the way up the hill over looking the tennis courts is a beautiful house with a gorgeous view. A house in which Art grew up; a house with a lot of memories. "All the land down there were all fields," said Art. "There were dairy farms, vegetable farms and a few chicks running around," he continued with an impish smile.

Art's father, John Kimber, grew up in New York City until his teens. Art's grandfather was an Episcopalian minister and his grandmother, Clara Kimber, was an organist and a professional musician. After his grandfather's death, his grandmother Clara moved with her children to California and settled in Palo Alto. There she taught music and founded the Palo Alto School of Music in 1910. John graduated from Stanford University with a major in Agriculture and a minor in Music. After graduation he spent a few years teaching agriculture and music in Palo Alto. There he met his future wife Alice Barnes who was also a teacher, teaching mathematics and Spanish. After they got married they bought some land and moved to Fremont. John decided he wanted to have a farm raising chickens. He was very much ahead of his time when he decided to have a research laboratory on the farm. It was a struggle in the beginning and John started teaching music at Washington High School to make ends meet while Alice stayed home and looked after the chickens on the farm. John also loved to conduct and was the first conductor of the Palo Alto Symphony started by Clara.

While Art and his brother Jack were growing up, Kimber Farms grew to become the second largest employer in Fremont. The Kimber farm buildings occupied the area where Fremont Christian Community School now stands. "Mission Boulevard did not exist then. It was all Niles road," said Art. "The area where Mission Hills Tennis club now stands used to be a park and a recreation area with a seven tiered lake for the Kimber employees to relax with their families and have picnics. We as a family used to go boating on a sail boat right here," he reminisced. The recreation park also had a softball diamond, where the club's swimming pool exists, and the company had a softball team.

Art and Jack attended Niles Elementary School until eighth grade and then went on to attend Washington High School. "We used to walk and bike to school, and on the way home we would eat tomatoes from the fields," said Art. Apart from school, Art used to work on the farm. While at school he used to love building model planes, a passion that would play a big part in his life as an adult.

During Art's formative years, Kimber Farms had many successes. The company hired a geneticist and a veterinarian pathologist in 1934 which paved the way for many more scientists who came to work at Kimber Farms in the ensuing years. According to the Chicken Book, efficient white-gowned people with little time for sentiments worked for Kimber. The Chicken Book also mentions that it was John's inspiration to apply the most modern discoveries in the rapidly expanding field of genetics to the breeding of chickens for specific purposes. Producing eggs in this manner made it very affordable and revolutionized the industry. The success in poultry genetic research at Kimber Farms also helped produce disease resistant chickens and disease free eggs. This played an important part in the development of vaccines in the United States. According to an account in the New Jersey Association of Biomedical Research, Maurice R. Hilleman, who developed the measles vaccine, had a problem with the chicken embryos used for large scale manufacturing of the measles virus. They were infected with a bird virus. To obtain virus free chickens Hilleman contacted Kimber Farms. At first the company was reluctant to part with its prized chickens but Hilleman found that the research director at Kimber Farms had Montana roots, the same as himself and he used that to make a deal. Thus measles vaccine was produced successfully. In recent years it has been possible to produce flu vaccine using this procedure. As the company thrived, John gave back to the community by sponsoring scholarships in genetics and poultry and awards in genetics and music.

Soon after Art graduated from high school, people started getting draft orders from the military to fight in WWII. Art decided to enlist in the Air Force before the orders came. His mother was concerned and was not happy with his decision to fight in the war. Art learned to fly and spent two years and seven months fighting in the war. His squadron, the Dental Squadron, was stationed Northern Italy, ran over 39 combat missions. They specialized in destroying the bridges. The war also had an adverse effect on Kimber Farms. Many Kimber employees had to fight in the war, but their jobs were kept safe until they returned. After the war, Art studied agricultural economics for a brief period at U.C. Berkeley before joining Kimber Farms and managing the European operations until Kimber Farms was sold to Dekalb Poultry Research Inc.

Besides tennis, Art also loves music. He learned to play the piano when he was a young boy. He and his wife Joan are members and supporters of the Fremont Symphony Orchestra. Art has kept up with the times and technology. He met Joan over the Internet in a chat room and they corresponded for four months before even meeting. "Art has a real sense of humor," said Joan fondly. "Before we met he told me that he was a chicken farmer living in an old farm house." Finally, Art asked Joan for her phone number. At first she was hesitant giving a stranger her phone number but once he contacted her everything went well and they ended up marrying five years ago. Art has four children, two sons and two daughters, and is the proud grandfather of eight grandchildren.

As part of the tribute to the Kimbers the Museum of Local History had organized a memory lane potluck, inviting former Kimber employees. Many of the invitees who could not attend wrote letters about their fond memories at Kimber Farms. Of particular interest were the letters from Mrs. Goodwin, wife of geneticist and Penn State professor, Dr. Goodwin, and from Dr. Farnsworth. Mrs. Goodwin had written about the great opportunity her husband had at the start of his professional career to have been able to work at Kimber Farms with Drs. Lamoreux, Dickerson, Farnsworth and others who were leaders in their fields. In a letter by Dr. Farnsworth, he mentions how he had a great opportunity to work under leading geneticists like Dr. Lamoreux and how he had pursued a Ph.D. and returned to work at the farm on the turkey project until it was sold. He went on to work at the new company until he retired as vice president of the Breeding Division.

To see the exhibit and learn more about the Kimbers visit the Museum of Local History at 190 Anza Street, Fremont. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Wednesday and Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every second weekend in every month. For more information call (510) 623-7907 or visit http://www.museumoflocalhistory.org.

 
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