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Clover co-founder Ross dies at 89

Five of the six Clover Stornetta original owners from left, Bill Van Dam, Paul Ross, Dan Benedetti, John Markusen and Gene Benedetti in Petaluma in 1977.

ARGUS-COURIER STAFF, ARGUS-COURIER STAFF

Paul Ross, a Petaluma dairy innovator and co-founder of Clover Stornetta Farms, died on Oct. 19 in Folsom. He was 89.

A former quality control manager for Petaluma Cooperative Creamery, Ross and five other managers purchased the Clover brand and Stornetta Farms in 1977. He ran the Petaluma dairy, now called Clover Sonoma, until his retirement in 1998.

In his decades in the dairy business, Ross became famous for his dedication to quality and freshness.

“Paul’s signature legacy to the Clover name was, and still is, his insistence for quality products,” said Dan Benedetti, former president and chairman of Clover Stornetta.

As a child, Ross moved with his family to California from Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl years, eventually settling in Vallejo.

In high school, Ross became a boxing champion and star football player. After graduating, he served in the U.S. Army, with a foreign deployment to Japan. Upon his return, Ross enrolled at the University of San Francisco and became a star football player for the USF Dons.

Ross married his wife of 67 years, Lois Tait in 1950. Eventually, they moved to Petaluma, where Ross was a semi-pro football player for the Petaluma Leghorns. Ross went on to coach the Leghorns in subsequent years.

At the same time, Ross and his wife began raising a family and he started his career in the dairy industry. His early years were spent in the lab at the Petaluma Cooperative Creamery, home to Clover milk products. With a passion for quality control, Ross moved through the ranks at the creamery, eventually overseeing all plant operations.

“Dad was a stickler for fresh taste from the very early days,” said son Gordy Ross of Santa Rosa. “He had all these awards for milk and ice cream tasting from the University of California. If something didn’t taste right, it didn’t make it onto the store shelf.”

After Ross and his partners formed Clover Stornetta Farms in 1977, Ross oversaw all production and bottling of Clover milk products.

“As one of the founding partners at Clover Stornetta, Paul brought his work ethic and uncompromising demand for excellence to the company,” said Gary Imm, former CEO at Clover Stornetta.

In addition to his ownership and management duties at Clover Stornetta, Ross was a leader in the statewide dairy industry. He served for many years on the board of directors of the California Dairy Industries Association, and became its President in 1985.

Ross spent his career advocating for the highest quality standards in the dairy industry and pushed for automation and efficiency. Ross oversaw the building of Clover’s state-of-the-art processing plant in Petaluma, which is still in operation today.

After retirement in 1998, he traveled extensively with his wife and enjoyed spending time with his family.

He is survived by sons Philip, Mark, Gordy and Ted Ross.