Neil Robinson, longtime rancher with deep family roots in Nevada County, died Jan. 22 |

Neil Robinson, longtime rancher with deep family roots in Nevada County, died Jan. 22

Sam Corey
Staff Writer

Neil Robinson was riding his Harley Davidson well into his 80s, even taking a 250-mile motorcycle ride with other bikers around 2016, according to friend and Nevada City Engineering CEO Andy Cassano.

The trip included a loop that began in Grass Valley, veering up to Feather River Canyon and around Highway 70 to Sierra City before ending in the same place it began.

Robinson was the oldest person on that trip.

“When my dad was 80 he didn’t seem old,” said Sue Hoek, District 4 Nevada County supervisor and Robinson’s daughter.

On Jan. 22, Robinson, a longtime rancher with deep family roots in Nevada County, died in his Nevada City home at the age of 89.

Hoek described her father as a character: a humble man who often kept his head down, never believing he “deserved extra things,” and throwing his life into his labor, including his timber company Robinson Enterprises, and his ranch.

“The man had a passion about how land was taken care of,” said Hoek, noting his care for the particulars like erosion. The land was something he paid attention to as a painter does her canvas.

“You don’t just go clear brush, you’re kind of an artist,” she said, adding later, “You had to be a good steward because if you weren’t, you wouldn’t have a place to come back to.”

Robinson was part of a much larger legacy in Nevada County, but to those closest to him, he was a mild-mannered, diligent laborer.

“He taught us work ethic,” said Robinson’s stepson and Fire Marshal for Nevada County Consolidated Fire District Terry McMahan. “He was the hardest worker that I’ve ever met.”

Hoek mentioned that she was already missing him and his idiosyncrasies.

“I am truly blessed to be able to look back and see what kind of a legacy he left here,” she said.


Robinson had deep ties to the area. A man born and raised in Nevada County, his great-grandfather, Thomas Jefferson Robinson, came to Penn Valley from Ohio in 1874. The Robinson Ranch, an area that spans 3,000 acres, is one of the original 12 ranches in Nevada County. His family helped set up the Nevada Irrigation District.

Robinson himself was born in 1930 at a time when the county was less populated and a bit more rural, said Hoek.

A member of the Nevada County Sportsmen, Robinson was engaged in hunting and fishing, particularly when he was younger, Hoek said.

He later enlisted in the military during the Korean War, and was deployed in Germany as a truck driver. But his stepson McMahan said he never wanted recognition for his service.

When he returned to Nevada County he started a logging business, Robinson Enterprises, and had four daughters during his first marriage, said Hoek. Robinson and his brother Lowell Robinson also took over the family ranch around that time.

But growth and change in the county were difficult for Robinson, said Hoek, as he liked the more rural aspects of Nevada County life: investing in his ranch and timber business.

“He provided that to me and all his grandchildren,” said Hoek of the ranch. “What a legacy he left. He raised a bunch of kids that are all very self-sufficient.”

Today, the supervisor said Robinson’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren have been imbued with the lessons of good stewardship.

After Robinson retired from the logging business in the 1990s, Hoek said he became a full-time rancher, and remained active with the Nevada County Farm Bureau. Even as he aged, he worked the land tirelessly, to the point where Hoek said she sometimes would get tired working with him into the evening, hoping her father would also soon lose steam.

His devotion to work aside, Hoek said Robinson was also a dedicated friend, always visiting his loved ones in the hospital. And when he did, Hoek said her father would often encourage his children to do the same.

“He was a simple man, but he had a big heart for people,” she said.


In September, Robinson was celebrated with the William Nickerl Award for Conservation Leadership by the Bear Yuba Land Trust at the Miners Foundry. The nonprofit gave him the award for his commitment to conservation and for his advocacy for a more communal connection to the land.

Andy Casano said he was proud to have presented Robinson with the award.

“This big group of people gave him a standing ovation,” he said.

Although he slowed a bit with age, Hoek said he could still work the equipment on the ranch.

“The man could still back up a car and a trailer like nothing else,” she said, noting that the Saturday before he died, he drove around the ranch. That event, she thought, was his way of saying goodbye.

Robinson’s memorial service will be sometime during the spring at the Robinson Ranch.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstates the relationship between Neil Robinson and the Nevada Irrigation District. His family helped establish the district. The Union regrets the error.

To contact Staff Writer Sam Corey, email or call 530-477-4219.

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