In May, 1949, Arie and Maartge de Jong arrived in Poway, California, with their 10 children in tow, seven boys, three girls. The youngest son of whom was also named Arie.
The de Jong family had been in the dairy business for over 200 years in Holland. However, they certainly were not wealthy at the time all this took place. Arie’s dad had $35 to his name. They started their American adventure living in three rock houses on the creek near the present Big Stone Lodge. None of the family spoke English. One of the first things they decided to do, unlike so many of today’s immigrants, was to learn the English language. (The 800 acre dairy farm is today the Cadillac-Fairbanks Industrial Park).
The Dutch folk have a lot of reasons to be proud . . . they have accomplished many great things over the years. No better example is found than right here in North County, in the person of Arie de Jong, the immigrant from Holland who came here 60 years ago last week.
To celebrate the occasion, Arie de Jong and his family hosted over 300 members of his family and close friends at their magnificent estate known as Melrose Ranch, in northeast Escondido.
“We had to sell our farm, our cattle, everything -- just to afford the trip to America,” said de Jong. “We had to start all over.”
Arie’s Uncle Sam, his dad’s brother, had sponsored the family on its emigration from Holland, contingent upon them helping out on his Poway farm for two years, milking cows, tending to the normal dairy requirements.
At that time Poway only had about 800 people and few stores. The de Jongs had to travel to Escondido to get supplies. One day, near what is now Felicita and Centre City Parkway, Arie’s dad saw a dairy owned by the Ratliff family. He saw a sign and asked . . “What means . . For Sella?”
“It means the dairy is for sale, dad.”
Mr. and Mrs. Ratliff were tired of working seven day weeks and wanted out. The de Jongs wanted to buy. A deal was struck. The de Jongs only had enough money saved sufficient to buy a new Chevy for the Ratliffs. They went to Weseloh Chevrolet, got a new Chevy . . . that was the down payment against a loan of $25,000.
They now owned the dairy. And 28 cows with one bull. The dairy had a small cash and carry store and the milk route.
Though Arie de Jong attended last week’s 50th high school reunion at Escondido High School, he never graduated. As is the old country tradition, Arie’s dad pulled him out of school at age 16 to work the dairy. “I got my education behind the barn. I actually didn't like dairy farming. It’s hard work . . . but, it was the family business. Dad and us little kids did all the work at the dairy because the older brothers were committed to Uncle Sam who sponsored us. That was the deal we had struck for him to sponsor us.
In 1952 Wharton’s Dairy in Escondido came up for sale and we managed to buy that. The Dairy and the old Escondido Creamery was then owned by Herb Lievers, Dick Lievers dad. We ended up buying it, which was then the largest dairy in Escondido. This dairy had 250 cows. The two dairies were combined into one and renamed Hollandia Dairy. The old creamery was located at Ivy & Grand in downtown Escondido. In 1956, we moved the whole milk plant to San Marcos.”
In recalling some of his younger years, Arie recalls sometime in 1949, when he had first arrived in America, “Bob Shidner, who worked for the Escondido Times Advocate, took me to the Del Mar Fair in his 1936 Ford. It was my first time ever, going to a fair. I remember seeing the food vendors selling corn on the cob. I wouldn’t eat it . . . ‘that’s pig food,’ I said . . .that’s what we’d feed pigs in Holland. I eventually learned to like corn on the cob.”
The dairy served all of North San Diego County and grew rapidly. And from that beginning, Arie de Jong wound up being a very successful immigrant. He built Hollandia Dairy to become a very successful dairy. He eventually sold it.
When Arie was 37, he decided he’d learned about all he could in
the dairy business and wanted to get into some other business. Though it took him a year and a half to get a permit for trash hauling, once he succeeded he wasted no time. He bid at an auction to acquire an existing business, Van Ort Enterprises. Mashburn Sanitation and other waste management firms were bidding at the auction. “I figured these guys were experts . . . if it was good for them . . . it must be good for me. So I bid $997,000 for the business and got it. I bought it sight unseen.”
The successful bid bought the land, buildings, equipment, a complete going business, with a franchise for the trash hauling for the City of Carlsbad. The business at that time had 12 trucks. When Arie de Jong sold it in 1997, he had amassed 80 trucks and 186 employees. After acquiring Waste Management and building it into a success, he sold it. He is a wealthy and successful man today, and he is generous with his success.
Just ask the employees of Waste Management who received $1 million dollar bonus to share when he sold the business and “retired.” He shrugs the bonus off, saying, “I had done real good in the business and decided to give some to all the employees who helped me succeed.”
That, of course, is not the way things are normally done in the business world. But, Arie de Jong has confounded business and government experts and officials for years. He often does the unexpected.
There are those who call him a ‘maverick.’ He has been known, several times in fact, to go ahead and build a building, to remodel a building, to start a business . . . all without having secured any governmental permits that are normally required. “I’m kind of an independent guy,” he says. “I often just go do it, and get permission later. But I always try to do a good job. I always build way beyond what the code requires.”
Evidence of this is seen in his Liberty Recycling Yard which he built on Mission Avenue in San Marcos . . . where, rather than nondescript fencing being installed, he made the facility an attractive business facility with colorful fencing, a Statue of Liberty that has become something of a landmark, (and which irked some city officials and other businessmen who had gone through the permitting process).
Another example is the school house he bought and began refurbishing, essentially as a hobby, when it came to him that this would be a great place to hold weddings. His very first customer was the San Marcos City Manager, Paul Malone, who was married there. Of course, de Jong had not bothered to get building permits, or a business license. He just “went ahead and did it.” And he got the paperwork squared away later. Even his most severe critics will acknowledge that, “when Arie does something, he builds it right. Strong, sturdy, attractive. And, yes, he does build it way beyond what the code requires.”
Even his present mansion, the Melrose Ranch near Lake Wohlford, in Escondido, has been completely remodeled, rehabilitated, rebuilt, redecorated . . . and he never had a building plan, or permits to build. “I have my own construction team,” he says. “We just decided to make this place into a thing of beauty . . . and I think we succeeded.”
The property, back in the 1920’s, had been owned by an English nobleman. He had butlers, maids, liveried servants. . .guest houses, chauffer’s house, magnificent gardens . . . and visiting royalty as guests. King Edward VIII, when he was courting Wallace Simpson, who was staying at the Hotel Del Coronado, would come and visit Melrose Ranch. Subsequently, as we all remember, he abdicated the throne in order to marry Mrs. Simpson.
“I learned about this place when I was a kid,” says de Jong. “When I had grown up and had some success in business, I decided this would be a nice place for my home. I’ve never regretted it. It is beautiful.”
The main building is 6000 sq. feet, with a spacious office, a number of bedrooms, beautiful furnishings and furniture, a spacious kitchen, all lovingly designed.
Back to business . . .
Waste Management had a portable toilet division that they didn’t want. Arie bought it and turned it over to his son, Eric, to manage. It now has over 3000 portable toilets servicing San Diego County.
Two of the many deluxe RV’s attending Arie de Jong’s 60th anniversary of emigrating to America
Arie de Jong is not actively managing any of the many businesses or real estate holdings he owns. “I’m supposed to be retired,” he laughs. But, his nature is such that he cannot just sit back on a rocking chair and enjoy his ‘retirement.” He always has some venture that he’s working on, the current one being a continuation of designing and remodeling his beautiful ranch home and its surrounding property.
Though we know Arie de Jong reasonably well, it was only last week that we learned he is still in the dairy business, owning many dairy farms throughout the nation. Many of these holdings are in the San Joaquin Valley, between Bakersfield and Sacramento.
When asked what made him so successful, de Jong answered, “I think it’s competition. I was the youngest of seven boys and I had to fight like the blazes to make my mark in the family. That kinda extended into the business world. I remember when I was a milkman, if I lost a customer to another dairy, it just killed me! I don’t like to lose. I never got spoiled when I was a kid. I had to get tough to stay up with my brothers, and I did. It made me try harder. I’ve been trying harder all my life. And it seems to have worked.” He went on . . . “the dairy business taught me and my family some mighty good traits for business. It taught us to give good service, to collect for our service or product, and to sell. These are the work ethics we all learned.”
At age 70, Arie de Jong shows no signs of slowing down.
Ten years ago he chartered a train, bus, and a boat, to take his family and close friends on a holiday on Catalina Island to celebrate the 50th anniversary of being in America. By all accounts, they took over the Best Western Hotel, and most of the island, having a marvelous celebration. This year, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of coming to America, he gathered 300 family members and close friends and held a community meeting and breakfast at Green Oak Ranch in Vista on Tuesday; Wednesday afternoon and evening he hosted a circus at Bates Nut Farm in Valley Center, and on Thursday and Friday he rented 90 hotel rooms at the Disneyland Hotel and they, essentially, took over Disneyland for two days. Then, on Saturday, he had a royal BBQ and day at leisure at Melrose Ranch, his beautiful estate new Lake Wohlford.
He looks back over the years and remembers the many things that have happened . . . “I remember working with Alan Skuba (former Escondido Councilmember and, later, Mayor) to move the Santa Fe Railroad station into Grape Day Park, as well as Bandy’s Blacksmithing Shop. He remembers acquiring the Green Oak Ranch (I think we can still work something out for the homeless there . . . he says)“. . . he remembers advancing $15,000 to help the San Marcos Historical Society to move the Bidwell Home to its present location. . .
There’s a lot for Arie de Jong to remember. That’s how it works with someone who accomplishes a great deal.
Above, 300 of the Arie de Jong family members and close friends gather for a group portrait on the grounds of Melrose Ranch, the estate of Arie and Anneke de Jong, near Lake Wohlford. Below, the playground area set up for the children as well as convenient tables for a barbecue picnic comlete with all the trimmings.