Key to the City recipient Virginia Fife died on July 2 at the age of 102. She received the award for becoming a centenarian.
In addition to that honor, Fife is memorialized through Virginia Fife Way, in the area of her family’s former ranch that was between Elk Grove-Florin and Waterman roads.
In the same area is Fife Ranch Way and Earl Fife Drive. The latter street is named after Fife and her husband William’s son Earl, who died in a helicopter crash during his U.S. Army service in Germany at the age of 20 in 1971.
William and Virginia also had four other children: Sherwin, Dale, Jocelyn and Carolyn. All five children graduated from Elk Grove High School.
The family members resided on their 16-acre Bond Road ranch, which William purchased in 1945.
An indication of how long it has been since the Fife family acquired that property is evident in the site’s address at that time: Route 2, Box 6253.
The barren land evolved into the Fife Ranch, which included a Grade B dairy, with about 15 cows, and cow pastures.
Sherwin said that his father would have a cow butchered about once per year and would store the majority of the meat in a meat locker that was located inside the present-day location of the Brick House Restaurant on Elk Grove Boulevard.
The ranch also included two to three pigs at a time and agricultural land with such crops as corn and hay.
Sherwin, who graduated from Elk Grove High in 1960, also recalled that red potatoes were planted on his family’s ranch.
“My dad went to Idaho and bought an old potato planter and a potato digger and took the potatoes to Arata Bros. grocery store in Oak Park (in Sacramento) twice per week,” he said.
While working as a homemaker, Fife joined the service-oriented Elk Grove Rebekah Lodge in 1955.
In 1966, Fife was part of the hospitality committee for a visit to the Elk Grove Odd Fellows Temple by Rebekah officials Maurine Presse and Fern McCrum.
Fife was active in the Daughters of Utah Pioneers organization and was involved in a project to improve the Sloughhouse Pioneer Cemetery.
Sherwin described his mother as a very kindhearted lady.
“We lived right along the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks, and back then there were a lot of hobos, and they would come to the house and they would say, ‘Can we do any work for you in exchange for some food?’
“My mother would always give them a hoe and say, ‘You go out and hoe some weeds, and I’ll make a sandwich for you,’ or something like that. This would have been in the later 1940s, early 1950s.”
Fife was born on March 3, 1917, in Hyrum, Utah, where she spent the earliest part of her life
She was the seventh of the 11 children of Charles and Agnes Unsworth, who raised their family as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS).
As a member of the church, she enjoyed singing in her ward’s choir.
In 1939, four years after graduating from high school in Hyrum, Virginia came to California with her friend, Clara Long.
It was during the same year, on Dec. 16, that William and Virginia Fife were married in Reno.
William, who was born in Ogden, Utah on Sept. 18, 1907, first spent time in California building roads in Los Angeles during his 20s.
In 1934, he helped build the sugar mill in Clarksburg. During the following year, he was hired as a welder for the Southern Pacific Railroad.
Fife and her family were among the founding families of the Latter-day Saints Elk Grove Ward, and some of its first meetings were held in the Fifes’ Bond Road home.
William died on March 30, 1989, and in 2003, after 58 years of living on the ranch, Fife moved from her longtime home. The Fife family’s ranch was subsequently replaced with about 60 homes.
In her later years, Fife enjoyed mingling with other seniors at the Senior Center of Elk Grove on Sharkey Avenue.
In addition to having five children, Fife had 11 grandchildren, 28 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.
A memorial service celebrating the life of Virginia Fife was attended by about 250 of her friends and family at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Elk Grove Boulevard on July 8.