Mulas memorial set for Tuesday
INFINEON RACEWAY paid tribute to Mitch Mulas on its sign on Highway 37.
Memorial services for Mitch Mulas, who died March 31 following complications from heart surgery, will be held Tuesday, April 12, at 11 a.m. with a funeral Mass at St. Francis Solano Church.
Mulas, who was 82, was an iconic member of several overlapping Valley communities. He was a revered fire chief who as a teen helped found the Schell-Vista Volunteer Fire Department, inducted his children and grandchildren into the volunteer service and served as chief for more than 40 years - up to the time of his death - while mentoring multiple generations of firefighters.
He was also a highly-respected and successful dairy farmer who, joined by his late brother, Mario, his children and his wife of more than 60 years, Nilda, developed one of the largest dairy operations in the county with what is now a 1,000 cow herd.
Mulas was equally active in agricultural affairs at the county and state level, serving for 35 years on the Sonoma County Farm Bureau board, twice as president. He also served on the California Beef board and on the board of the California Resource Conservation District.
Somehow Mulas still had time left over to serve 12 years as a trustee of the Sonoma Valley Unified School District and was honored in 2005 with the Sonoma Valley Salute to Education Award.
Mulas, who habitually worked 12-hour days, grew up in an environment of long and honest labor. His father, Michael Mulas, founded the family's first dairy farm, only to watch the cow barn burn to the ground with 30 cows inside. He then endured the Great Depression when the price of butter dropped to eight cents a pound, and twice saw his herds decimated by tuberculosis.
But then the owner of a 600-acre Schellville ranch offered the elder Mulas the opportunity to tenant-farm it for 25 percent of the gross, and the family's fortunes turned around.
"Everyone told him he'd go broke," Mitch Mulas once recounted to the Index-Tribune, "but he just said, 'I'll make a go of it - I'm broke anyway.'"
Make a good it he did, and so did his sons. Although, even for Mitch, the road to success wasn't always straight and smooth. In fact a road trip figured prominently into Mitch's early agricultural education.
As he once told it, Mulas bought a young bull from the state hospital in Ukiah when he was a teenager in the agriculture program at Sonoma Valley High School in the mid-1940s. A group from the ag department strapped a trailer to the back of a 1937 Ford sedan and drove to Ukiah to fetch the $100 purebred Holstein bull.
His father had entrusted him with a great responsibility, and Mitch wasn't going to let his dad down. Once in Ukiah, he bought the bull, loaded it into the trailer, and headed for home.
On the road a few miles south of town, Mulas, thinking how proud his father would be, turned around to see how his prized bull was doing. His heart nearly leapt out of his chest when he saw they were towing an empty trailer.
They turned the car around and headed back to search along the road, unsure what had happened but fearing the worst. A few miles back they found the little guy standing in a pasture, none the worse for wear after his leap from the speeding automobile.
"When we got him back into that trailer, I tied him to it," Mitch said.
Mitch's many honors would fill this page, but a few are especially noteworthy, including the 2007 Sonoma County Harvest Fair's Lifetime Contribution to Sonoma County Agriculture Award and his 2008 designation as grand marshal of the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma County at Infineon Raceway, during which 10,000 race fans got commemorative bracelets honoring firefighters.
And in the end, that was the persona that most defined Mitch Mulas. He was a humble, private but devoutly giving volunteer, dairy farmer, winemaker and always a fireman, whose friends and fellow firefighters hailed him and honored him with the name that fit him best, simply, "Chief."
On the day Mitch Mulas died, Steve Page, the president of Infineon Raceway, had a message posted on the large race track sign facing Highway 37 that read, "Godspeed Chief."
Friends of Mitch Mulas are invited to a visitation at Duggan's Mission Chapel, 525 W. Napa St. on Monday, April 11 from noon to 8 p.m. The funeral Mass will begin at 11 a.m. Tuesday, April 12, at St. Francis Solano Church, 342 W. Napa St., with a private interment at Mountain Cemetery.