Donald R. Fretz
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June 25, 1922 - July 31, 2014
"Fantastic!" was Judge Donald R. Fretz's typical response to any queries of "How are you?" In his later years, he was also known for launching into a memorized recitation of the complete Gettysburg Address. He last recited it twelve hours before his death, on July 31, 2014.
Don was born on June 25, 1922, in the rural town of Fort Wayne, Indiana. He was the eldest of three children born to Harold Herbert Fretz and Hilda Keen Fretz. The family later moved to the small central Indiana town of Tipton.
Don began his collegiate education at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, but that effort was interrupted by World War II. Don spent four years in the Army Air Corps. After his military service, Don returned to DePauw, and earned his BA degree. He later attended Stanford University Law School, and University of San Francisco School of Law (USF), from which he earned his Juris Doctor degree in 1950.
Don married Elizabeth Ragsdale, of Columbia, Missouri, in 1947. They made their first home in Palo Alto, California, while Don attended Stanford Law School, and the USF School of Law. In 1950, the couple moved from Palo Alto to the Central Valley town of Merced, California. They had three children, Ann, Elinor (Lin), and Holly. Don and Beth were divorced after a long marriage, but they remained friends.
Don began his law career in Merced. During his 12 years in private practice; he first worked as an attorney in the law firm of Preston, Braught, and George; later adding part-time public defender duties; and finally establishing his own private practice.
In 1962, Don was elected to the Merced County Superior Court. Don served as a Superior Court judge in Merced County from 1963, until his retirement from that position in 1989. During his tenure as a judge in Merced, Don was known as a strict, but fair, jurist.
After his retirement from the Superior Court in Merced, Don moved to Napa in 1990, and started a new life. However, his interest in judicial matters never waned. Once in Napa, Don began working for Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Services (JAMS), an organization that offers both business and individual arbitration services designed to resolve legal disputes. During this time, he also worked as an assigned judge in several counties, including Napa County; until his final retirement in 2009, at the age of 88.
Over the course of his almost 50 year career as a judge, Don had a passion for judicial education, both his own, and that of others. In order to further his own knowledge, he attended a session of the National College of State Trial Judges, which was held in Boulder, Colorado. After starting as a student there, Don later became a well-respected teacher at the national college, serving as a faculty member from 1967 to 1989.
Don's experience at the National Judicial College inspired his dream of establishing a similar educational program, which would be tailored to the needs of judges in California. He, along with others, worked hard to obtain the resources necessary to make their vision a reality. In 1967, he served as the first dean of the California Judicial College, located in Berkeley, California.
In addition to his professional life as a lawyer, and later as a judge, Don dedicated a great deal of his private time to community service organizations and activities. He was active in the Boy Scouts of America, serving as a troop leader in Merced, and later holding various positions at the local and regional levels. He also served on the school board in Merced, and was an active member of numerous community and fraternal organizations. A few of these were: Rotary, Kiwanis, Masonic Lodge, and Scottish Rite. (Ahh…those Kiwanis pancake breakfasts!)
In addition to time spent in legal, judicial, and community service, Don found time to pursue his wide-ranging interests. He was interested in wine, and was a member of the Napa Valley Wine Tasters. He loved gardening, growing camellias, and was a founding member of the Napa Valley Camellia Society. Don enjoyed traveling, and had the opportunity to Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and China.
An avid fisherman, Don took many trips to Alaska, to fish with his brother, George, on the Kenai River. In 1994, he claimed the George Fretz Boat Record for a 74-pound salmon. Don also had a life-long interest in family genealogy, helping to research, and write, two of the five volumes of the Fretz Family History.
Don had a powerful drive to improve himself, and he displayed a lifelong thirst for knowledge, which was never quenched. An avid reader until the last three days of his life, he read several books a week. He also read several newspapers cover to cover each day, often tearing out articles of interest to discuss with others.
One thread visible throughout Don's long life was his desire to make and keep connections with other people. Don made friends in school, in military service, in professional circles, in community service, and in pursuing his many interests. He cherished those friendships, and made every effort to maintain them.
His three daughters survive Don: Ann Fretz-Scott (spouse Ernie), Elinor (Lin) Wapner (spouse Roger), and Holly Ford. His grandchildren are Brandon Scott, Warren Ford, Nathaniel Ford, and Sarah Wapner. Elizabeth (Beth) Fretz, who shared 33 years of marriage with Don, also survives him. In addition, his sister Margaret Harper of Indiana survives him. His brother, George Fretz, preceded Don in death. George's wife, June Fretz, survives. Don's nieces and nephews, Debby Floyd (David), David Fretz (Paula), Drew Fretz (Cindy), Stephen Harper (Lynn), and Linda Boyer (Phil) also survive him. His nephews Doug Fretz and David Harper (Sandy) predeceased him. Don has grandnieces, grandnephews, great grandnieces and great grandnephews in Indiana, Texas, New York, Missouri, and Arizona. Don is also survived by his longtime companion, Fran Kane, her daughter, Karyn Kane Williams (Doug), and Fran's grandson, Kane Williams.
A memorial service to honor Don's life will be held Saturday, August 9, at 2 p.m., at the First United Methodist Church of Merced, 899 Yosemite Parkway, Merced, CA 95340. If you have memories of Don, or wish to send condolences, you may address them either to Beth Fretz, 3050 "M" Street #129, Merced, CA 95348; or to Lin (Fretz) Wapner, 281 Rosita Drive, Boulder Creek, CA 95006. In lieu of flowers, please consider making a contribution, in Don's memory; to the educational institution, community organization, or
Published in Merced Sun Star from Aug. 7 to Aug. 9, 2014