For Cholla Cattle Co. owner Harvey Dietrich, winning the Chester A. Reynolds Memorial Award was a “humbling experience.”
“There’s a lot of people in this business and to be selected, it’s been overwhelming,” he says. The award, given by the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, recognizes a living individual or group who over a period of years has demonstrated “unwavering commitment to Western principles.” He accepted the award during the Western Heritage Awards event on April 18 at the museum in Oklahoma City.
When asked what constitutes Western principles, Dietrich replied, “Your word is your bond and handshakes mean a lot – more than a piece of paper. It has to do with how we do business. We care about our animals. We care about our people and we take care of the land, but the big thing for me is protecting the brand, the beef business in the United States.”
Dietrich, who was also honored last year as the 2014 Arizona Pioneer Stockman by the Arizona National Livestock Show, operates the 750,000-acre Diamond A Ranch in Seligman, the largest cattle ranch in Arizona, where he keeps about 6,000 cows, 500 bulls and 150 horses. He also has cattle in other Western states, bringing the total count to about 25,000 to 30,000.
Admittedly, Dietrich says that cattle ranching isn’t the normal career path for a Jewish man to take, but he’s been in the livestock business since he was 15. Growing up in Los Angeles, Dietrich initially worked for a summer at a meatpacking plant owned by friends of his father. “It sounded interesting,” he says. Since Dietrich didn’t drive, one of the owners would pick him up at 3 a.m. and take him to the plant. “I’d never seen anything like it in my life. In the middle of the night, it’s like the middle of the day – there’s lights and trucks and people coming and going,” he says. His job was to unpin the shrouds on cow carcasses so the retailers could select the beef they wanted. He also cleaned water troughs and opened the cattle gates.
Dietrich enjoyed his time there so much, he asked if he could come back and work during Christmas vacation. After high school, he attended Pierce College a couple of days a week and worked at the meatpacking plant the rest of the time. At 19, he quit school after being promoted to cattle buyer.
In 1959, Dietrich moved to Phoenix with the company to replace cattle buyer Eli Grouskay, who was retiring. “There were a handful of Jews here in the business,” Dietrich says.
Jewish life in Phoenix in 1959 revolved around the Jewish Community Center, which at that time was located at 16th Street and Camelback Road, he says. “A lot of young people were moving here, starting families and nobody had any money. People were trying to make it.” When the center moved to the Maryland location, the Dietrichs met a lot of friends at the swimming pool. “Nobody had pools. A lot of people were living in apartments, so it was a great place to hang out,” he says. “There was a lot of camaraderie. The center was a very special place.”
After the move to Phoenix, Dietrich held a couple of jobs, which eventually led him to start ranching in 1972 in California. In 1982, he started Sun Land Beef Co. in Tolleson, which became one of the top 20 beef producing operations in the United States.
Today, Dietrich goes up to the ranch in Seligman regularly, sometimes every other week during the busy season and every other month in the summer. “Right now we’re branding and bringing back some cattle from California that we raised over there to put back in the herd,” he says.
Dietrich and his second wife, Marnie, are longtime members of Beth El Congregation. He’s also an Arizona Jewish Heritage Society board member, who has been involved since “way back” when Beryl Morton started the organization. As for other involvement, Dietrich says, “There’s been opportunities to do other things, but I was in and out of town a lot.”
Being honored with the Chester A. Reynolds Award is really special, Dietrich says. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing and the feeling of being recognized – there’s nothing more significant than being nominated or joining your peers in a group like this. That’s about as good as it gets, at least for me. I’m very appreciative.”