Edward Dwight Kilby, beloved family man and Northern California business leader, died on October 30, 2012 during one of the Montana hunting trips he made almost every year since his teens. He was 81.
Ed Kilby was born in Huron, South Dakota to Charles and Jeannette Kilby. During the Great Depression, the young Kilby family returned to California. After a time in Colusa they settled in Live Oak, where Ed Kilby attended public schools from kindergarten through his graduation in 1949. By this time, Charles Kilby had bought and begun to farm the ground on West Evans Reimer Road in south Gridley that Ed was still working with the fullest devotion at the time of his passing. After serving his country in the U.S. Coast Guard, Ed Kilby entered Yuba College to study engineering. It was there that his head was turned by Donna Lou Schmutzler, of Hammonton, who Kilby would take as his bride in October of 1955.
After earning an Associate’s degree, Ed and Donna Kilby settled in Marysville and he began work for the California Division of Highways. While a career and a family were beginning for Kilby, he remained involved in his father’s farming operation in Gridley. Everyone who ever worked with or for Ed Kilby knew that he was a designer, builder, and worker of the first order who could put in hours that would wear out lesser men. His signature contribution to orchard farming throughout the world, however, would come in the late 1950s because (as he told the Gridley Herald in 2000) he was “…too lazy…” to hand-pick prunes for his father, Charles, so he “…came up with building a shaker” because he “…needed to make enough money to go to Montana hunting again.”
Ed Kilby’s devotion to efficiency inspired production of what would come to be known as the world’s finest mechanical harvesters and carriers of fruit and nut crops. “1960” is scrawled in the concrete floor of what was the paint shop and later the parts department of Kilby Manufacturing, and Kilby could be seen there and throughout the facility guiding work at his company until his retirement in 2011. Along with manufacture, sale, and service of equipment, Kilby’s own fleet of custom harvesting equipment has harvested as many as 8,000 acres of pistachios in central and southern California in a single year. Products from throughout the Kilby line are still at work on several continents and about 1/3 of American states, and anyone driving the roads of Butte, Sutter, Yuba, or Glenn counties this summer and fall is likely to have seen several. Upon seeing one of these harvesters or bin carriers, one might consider the vastly increased acreage in orchard crops under production, compared with a half-century ago, because of the work that Kilby equipment can do. The list of innovators who have done more than Ed Kilby for Northern California’s farm economy is short.
Page 2 of 3 - Just as the desire to invent came from the pursuit of a favorite pastime in Montana, the desire to build a great company came in part from Ed Kilby’s desire to give his family and himself chances to enjoy the great beauty and action that life offers. He was an avid and skilled pilot. Anyone who flew with him saw he was as comfortable behind the stick of his plane as behind the wheel of his motor home or one of the many machines he used to tear through snow. Ed loved cutting through it, whether on skis, a snowmobile, or one of the several enclosed, multi-passenger “Snow Cats” that he designed and built. Kilby’s family shared the love of mountains and snow with him, and this love led to the choice of Lake Almanor West as the family’s weekend and wintertime retreat. Longing to be outdoors to hunt, fish, and go fast through snow were so central to who Ed Kilby was that it seems insufficient to use a word like “hobby” to describe those pursuits. Ed Kilby got to see the world because he was an adventurer and a success at business, but all who knew him know that three pieces of his heart were always in Montana, Chester, and Gridley. Long after the bulk of our sadness has receded, we’ll smile when we remember that Ed was on his last hunting adventure in Montana when he left us.
No one could lead and live as generously as Ed Kilby without earning admiration and accolades. He was a proud supporter of community projects and Gridley High School athletics. He was added to Live Oak High School’s Wall of Fame in 2005 and honored as a Sunsweet Grower of the Year. He served as President of the Rotary Club in Gridley as well as opened his home to three Rotary Club exchange students. Probably the outpouring of affection Ed Kilby would recount most fondly was at the Yuba City Bonanza Inn in 2005, where an overflow crowd of friends and family from around the country gathered to celebrate Ed and Donna’s fiftieth wedding anniversary. Those who were there, down to the very last, would say that only a man of great productivity and generosity could attract such a gesture of love. He cared deeply about being a husband, father and grandfather.
Edward Dwight Kilby is preceded in death by his parents, Charles and Jeannette Kilby; and two brothers, Lowell Kilby and Stanley Kilby.
Ed Kilby is survived by Donna, his wife of 57 years; a sister and brother-in-law, Charlene and Ross Oakman; three daughters and two sons-in-law: Suzanne and Dwayne Robinson, Patricia Kilby, and Katy and John Mitchell; four grandchildren and two spouses: Andrew and Jamie Robinson, Lisa and Michael Lopez, Audrey Mitchell, and Emily Mitchell; and four great-grandchildren: Kyler, Jace, Emory, and Gavon Robinson.
Page 3 of 3 - In lieu of flowers, the family asks that well-wishers make donations in Edward Kilby’s name to the Texas Children’s Hospital’s Heart Center (for congenital heart research) or the Alzheimer's Association. To donate to Texas Children’s Hospital’s Heart Center please send your donation to: Texas Children’s Hospital, Office of Development, 1919 South Braeswood Boulevard, Suite 5214, Houston, TX, 77030 and please write “Heart Center” and “In memory of Edward Kilby” on your check.
The service will be held on Monday, November 12, at 11 a.m. at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Reception following at the Gridley Moose Lodge.