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Remembering the farmer with the cow named Flo

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POSTED November 20, 2013 1:06 a.m.

Melvyn Luiz was a dairy farmer at heart. When his father died, there was no question in his mind what he was going to do. First of all, being the only child, it was now up to him to take care of his mother. The job of maintaining the small family dairy that his parents started in the 1940s now rested upon his shoulders, too. On top of that, there was his own family – a wife and twin daughters – to provide for and look after as well.

Even after his divorce, and he had to move to Modesto to be near his young children, he drove to Manteca every day as early as 6 o’clock in the morning – winter, spring, summer, fall – to feed the cows, oversee the milking, hop into his front loader and get the silage ready for winter feed, all the while making sure his mother was all right. When the girls were old enough, they would come with him to Manteca and took on the job of helping feed the cows.

Last week, the old family dairy – the hay barn, the corral, the old family house, the milk barn, and the trailer that was the home for nearly three decades of milker Jaime Curnejo and his wife and children – all literally bit the dust. Some of the milking facilities were purchased by another dairy farmer. The 40-acre property had been sold to Raymus Homes: The Next Generation and the land was being prepped for the underground infrastructure that was the precursor to starting with the building of the residential subdivision. Luiz was at the slowly vanishing old dairy farm practically every day, picking up things that he wanted to save from the property – both for their practical and sentimental value – to be part of the ranch that he had already purchased in Escalon. He did not want to go back to dairy farming. But he still wanted a farm where his four grandsons could continue to enjoy life in the country with some cows and fields and an almond orchard to enjoy. And a place where he could continue to play with his heavy-machinery toys as well that he thoroughly enjoyed.

But God had other plans for the lifelong dairy farmer. On Saturday, Nov. 16, he woke up early as was his custom, according to Travis, the brother of his wife, Sandy. Around 6 a.m. He turned on the television set. Twenty minutes later, he was found unconscious in bed. Family members called 9-1-1 then started administering CPR as they received directions over the phone. When the ambulance arrived, emergency personnel continued giving him CPR for another 10 minutes but there was nothing else they could do. “He had an enlarged heart and they said it just stopped. His heart was twice the size of a normal heart,” Travis said. Luiz was in his mid-50s.



Luiz Dairy, Flo the Cow, and Manteca’s claim to fame

The Luiz Dairy became a Manteca historical footnote during the devastating New Year’s Floods of 1997, thanks to Flo the Cow which put the Family City on the map. In the midst of the evacuations of residents in the south and southwest rural area of Manteca, and as the flood waters rose inundating by several feet scores of homes south of Woodward Avenue and west of South Airport Way, one cow was stranded atop a floating trailer from the Islander Trailer Park at the nearby flood-swollen Waltham Slough. The cow was one of several dozen bovine belonging to the Luiz family. They had property near the slough on Williamson Road at the entrance to Weatherbee Lake riverside residential enclave which was a grazing ground for several of their dairy cows. Many of the cows drowned, but one cow managed to scramble on top of a floating trailer.

The bovine survivor caught the attention of the news media, including CNN and the other major news channels. Soon, the cow had a name. The news media christened her Flo the Cow. Images of caring volunteers taking straw and water to the stranded cow were flashed across millions of television screens throughout the United States and the world. And Luiz found himself interviewed by journalists with their video cameras and digital cameras.

Luiz and the family dairy had their proverbial 15 minutes of fame, the expression coined by the late pop artist Andy Warhol. The fame lasted more than 15 minutes, however. It stretched for months, even a few years.

After Flo the Cow was rescued, she was returned to the Luiz dairy on Woodward and Oleander. Tragically, what the devastating floods could not do to the cow was finished by an archer who went under the shadow of darkness one night and shot an arrow into the body of Flo. The wound was fatal, marking the end of the brave and tenacious four-hoofed friend. The culprit was never found.

Funeral arrangements for Luiz – son, husband, father, and grandfather – are pending.

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