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Sunnyvale’s Bill Reed on Growing Up Happy in the Valley of Heart’s Delight

It was Father’s Day and 96-year-old—on June 29—William (Bill) Reed and his son Patrick Reed reminisced as they walked around the lot behind the family home they share in Sunnyvale. The lot is scattered with relics of the family’s local history—an 11-acre fruit orchard planted on land purchased in 1882.

“We were blessed to be part of the development of Silicon Valley growth,” said Bill Reed.

A rusted blacksmith forge and a furrow maker rest in the shade of oak trees. A 14-foot, rickety wood ladder for picking apricots, prunes and peaches leans against a tree. (An 18-foot ladder was used for the cherry trees.)

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At the back of the lot is a dilapidated, wood-roofed and -sided fruit stand, built about 1920. It stood on Fremont Avenue near Loyola Corners in Los Altos until about 1956 when the Southern Pacific Railroad stopped service on that line. Bill and his dad, Harold Reed, built it for selling fresh fruit to the workers who disembarked the 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. trains at the Loyola stop.

Most of the family fruit orchard, near the creek that Stevens Creek Boulevard was named after, was acquired by eminent domain by the state to make way for Highway 85.

“We made a meager living, not like today,” said Bill.

Growing up on the ranch, they had no indoor plumbing or electricity. They used kerosene lamps. They raised a cow, pigs and chickens to feed the family.

When evicted from their ranch home, which Bill and his dad built, they constructed another on their remaining property. When that two-story house burned down, they lived in a converted barn with a dirt floor. Then in 1959, Bill built the modest house where he now lives, also on former orchard land.

Bill was always a hard worker.

“If you’re going to kill time, you might as well work it to death,” Patrick recalled his dad telling his late brother and him.

Bill considers himself fortunate to be born in a location of such opportunity that he chose never to live elsewhere. Though he did go to Japan as an Army TSgt. during WWII.

“There was no reason to leave home,” said Bill, who traces his ancestry back to the Donner-Reed Party of American pioneers that came west in 1846-1847.

“I had everything—good weather, a good place to live, a short drive to San Jose to go to work, good opportunities to grow in my job with IBM,” said Bill.

Bill also had a bride from San Diego, the late Jane Varner Reed, whom he met at San Jose State University, where he used the GI Bill to earn a degree in accounting. They married in 1950, a union lasting 69 years.

Although slowed down and using a cane after a recent fall while working in the yard, Bill Reed still rides a stationary bike five miles daily. He does research and email on the computer.

“I’m happy and satisfied with my life. Everything was good about it,” he said.

Patrick paraphrased Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.

“You don’t have to travel far from home. Everything you need is right in your own backyard,” said Patrick.

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1 Comment
  1. Clyde 5 months ago
    Reply

    Great story about old timers in the area. I grew up when there were fruit orchards along Homestead and major streets in the area. My neighbors son married one of the Marcassie daughters. The land where the new Kaiser Hospital stands.

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