Hulda Brooke McLean

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Hulda Brooke McLean (Hoover)

Birthplace: Palo Alto, San Mateo, California, USA
Death: Died in Santa Cruz, California, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Theodore Jesse (T.J. or Tad) Hoover and Mildred Crew Hoover
Wife of Charles Alexander McLean, Jr.
Mother of <private> McLean; Allen Hoover McLean and <private> McLean
Sister of Mildred Brooke Hoover and Louise Brooke Hoover

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Immediate Family

About Hulda Brooke McLean

Hulda Hoover McLean, one of Santa Cruz County's first female supervisors who also had family ties to Waddell Creek Ranch and the White House, died Monday. She was 100.

McLean died in her sleep at her Walnut Avenue home in Santa Cruz.

"She was an enormously talented person. She painted, she wrote, she was in politics," said Barbara McCrary, whose husband Lud McCrary runs Big Creek Lumber and had known McLean for 55 years. "I feel sad that such a remarkable person has passed. Remarkable people don't come along every day."

McLean had a sense of noblesse oblige, according to one of her sons, Allan McLean of Scotts Valley. The term is defined as the obligation of honorable, generous and responsible behavior associated with high rank or birth.

"She spent most of her energies trying to make the world a little better for people around her, her family and community," said Allan McLean. "She was particularly interested in the welfare of women and children."

McLean's uncle was former President Herbert Hoover, and her father was a Stanford University dean.

Born in Palo Alto in 1906, McLean was raised in London in a five-story home across from Kensington Gardens, the fictional home of Peter Pan, as well as at Rancho Del Oso, the ranch that incorporated Waddell Creek Valley.

In 1914, only months before World War I started in Europe, McLean and her family made the long journey across the Atlantic Ocean with German U-boats patrolling the waters.

They wound up at the ranch in the Waddell Valley north of Santa Cruz.

She took lessons in piano, ballet and art in addition to her schoolwork, and was accepted to Stanford University in 1924 — one of only 500 women on a campus of 10,000 men.

While at Stanford, McLean met her future husband, Chuck McLean, a freshman golf champion who earned the highest grade ever achieved at the time on the Stanford entrance exam. He died in 1981.

The couple married in 1925 without telling their parents. They went on to have three children, and McLean worked a variety of jobs including investigating the welfare system and teaching elementary school, and served as president of the California League of Women Voters.

In 1956, she was elected to the county Board of Supervisors and was integral in passing an ordinance requiring dairies to pasteurize milk. Highlights of her tenure included raising the county's wage scale, demolishing a retirement home considered a fire hazard, constructing juvenile hall, establishing UC Santa Cruz and boosting mental health services.

McLean wrote 28 books, including her autobiography, "Almost 100 Years," which was published in 2002.

McCrary, 73, credits McLean for sparking her interest in volunteering at the County Fair in the early 1950s and becoming a member of the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau.

The family was glad McLean lived as long as she did, said Allan McLean.

"She was a very important person to all of us in the family, kind of a mainstay and someone to look up to," he said. "All the grandchildren loved her dearly and looked up to her as the epitome of the matriarch."

The family ranch at Waddell Creek was sold in 1985 to the Sempervirens Fund, which sold it to State Parks. The property later became part of Big Basin Redwoods State Park. The old family house is now used as a public nature center.

At age 90, McLean was likely the oldest volunteer among all the State Parks staff, and was still a regular camper and hiker.

Article 1988:

As the wetlands, orchards and ranches of Northern California are replaced by malls, condos and high-tech office parks, one huge swath of land along the Pacific Coast remains untouched. Located just north of Santa Cruz on Highway 1, Rancho del Oso is 2,000 acres of breathtaking real estate that was turned over to the state of California in various portions in the 1970s and 1980s by Hulda Hoover McLean, '28, and her family.

McLean could have made a fortune if she'd decided to sell the land to real estate developers. But the lifelong Republican chose instead the environmental option. "It would have been fun to be rich," says McLean, who, at 90, is short, plump and astonishingly spry. "But what fun would it be if you knew the place your heart belonged to was destroyed?"

Far from being destroyed, the land has been allowed to revert to nature. Cattle have been banished and ranch buildings torn down. Environmentalists are ecstatic: "I don't know a single other place in central California where, within a 20-minute walk, you can visit tidepools, sandy beaches, Monterey pine forests, mixed evergreen woodlands and riparian and chaparral plant communities," says Diane West-Bourke, resident naturalist at Rancho del Oso.

McLean's heart--and history--belong to Rancho del Oso. For decades it was the weekend retreat for her father, Theodore Hoover, '01, the first dean of Stanford's School of Engineering. His brother Herbert, class of 1895, was a regular visitor both before and after his presidency. During Prohibition, McLean, then a Stanford undergraduate, threw rollicking parties at the estate.

Hoover family friends who found themselves in need during the Depression pitched tents on the land and lived off its bountiful fish and game. McLean made her home there during World War II and raised three sons on the ranch. Then in 1985, a few years after she was widowed, she decided the place was too much for her to manage alone, and she moved to Santa Cruz. She still visits the ranch a few times a week--to hike, paint or attend to park business. "I don't miss it because I come back whenever I want to and pretend it's still mine," McLean says, sitting in her former living room--now a nature center filled with stuffed birds and otters.

The story of Hulda Hoover McLean and Rancho del Oso is intimately bound up with Stanford. Until the middle of the century, a Stanford education was virtually a rite of passage for members of the Hoover clan. The tradition began a century ago, McLean says, when Stanford was recruiting students in Oregon. Two of its prize catches were Theodore and Herbert Hoover, orphaned brothers who decided to move to California and put each other through college.

It was as a student at Stanford, back in 1898, that Theodore Hoover rode over to the coast one day and camped on a hillside overlooking the Waddell Valley, a gorgeous 3,000-acre tract of marsh, meadow, forest and beach. "Someday," he wrote in his journal, "I'm going to own a field, a hill and a piece of the stream."

After Stanford, he worked in London as an international mining consultant, developing gold mines from Burma to Finland. By 1913, he had made enough money to purchase almost the entire Waddell Valley. A year later, he moved his family, including 7-year-old Hulda, to Palo Alto and took a job as professor of mining and metallurgy at Stanford. Every weekend the family headed for their land, christened Rancho del Oso, or "Ranch of the Bear."

"It was magic," McLean says of her childhood on the ranch. "My father's idea was that the place was ours to take care of temporarily. So he kept it as primitive as he could, which, of course, was hard with people and cows and pigs. But the ranch still has all the species that seem to be lost other places, like bobcats and pumas. And we have less interesting endangered things, like red-legged frogs and Western pond turtles."

McLean enrolled at Stanford in 1924 and majored in political science. She never had any doubts that she wanted to go to college, but she was unusual. There was only a handful of women on campus at the time. "We never had problems getting dates, though the men insisted Mills College women were prettier," McLean says dryly. "In my opinion, young women's looks are basically the same from one place to the next."

She often invited Stanford friends down to the ranch for house parties, where they'd drink "dreadful" bathtub gin and orange juice and take late-night swims in the Pacific. ("Young people are so silly," she says now.) One Halloween, a Stanford classmate named Charles McLean turned up at a party, and, McLean says, "We just kind of liked each other." Five weeks later, they married.

The couple rode out the Depression in Pasadena, too poor to travel East to visit her Uncle Herbert in the White House. "He was darling," McLean says of the 31st president. "Full of humor and appreciation for young peoples' projects." But during his troubled presidency, McLean says, "the family lost him. I don't think he visited the ranch during that time."

McLean, however, returned every chance she got. "Even when I've lived other places, this felt like home," she says. In 1942, McLean and her husband did decide to make it home. They moved into the family's 30-room house, and her husband took over management of the ranch.

Meanwhile, McLean became involved in local government. In the 1940s, brucellosis--a disease caused by drinking unpasteurized milk--was rampant in Santa Cruz, but McLean says the county board of supervisors balked at passing a pasteurization law, so she organized a committee to push one through. Then she decided to run for office. "I thought, 'For heaven's sake, we've got a stupid board of supervisors,'" McLean says. "'I've got to get on it.'"

And, in 1956, she did. There were few women in politics at the time, and one man told her he'd rather vote for a dog. "You expected it," McLean says. "You knew there were men who'd resent you because you were a woman." Still, despite her experiences in public life--which she describes as "fun, in a gruesome way"--and despite serving as state president of the League of Women Voters, McLean is reluctant to describe herself as a feminist. "If I were young today, I might be a feminist," she says. "They do a lot of vulgarly unattractive things, but maybe those things should be done."

That pretty much sums up her view of environmentalists: They're not always "sensible," but it's a good thing they're around for the sake of the environment. "It's better than it used to be," she says, "when no one paid attention." But her own days of getting involved, she insists, are over. She is determined to leave the decision as to what to do with the roughly 1,000 acres of the Waddell Valley that remain in the family for the next generation--including her seven grandchildren. "I used to try to save the world," McLean says. "But not anymore. Now the younger people have to do it."

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Hulda Brooke McLean's Timeline

August 19, 1906
Palo Alto, San Mateo, California, USA
October 10, 1935
Age 29
Palo Alto, San Mateo, California, USA
October 2, 2006
Age 100
Santa Cruz, California, United States