Harvey Dietrich, a pioneering cattle rancher and a driving force for the Jewish community in Arizona, died Dec. 25. He was 85.
Dietrich’s longtime friend, Jerry Lewkowitz, described him as “a cowboy rancher and a gentleman.”
“He was a very special guy in so many respects,” Lewkowitz said. “He was a good friend in that if you want to talk to him, you could, and if he agreed or disagreed, he was the same person.”
Dietrich began working at a meat-packing plant at age 15, after his family moved from Boston to Los Angeles. At 19, he was promoted to cattle buyer and in 1959, he moved to Phoenix, where he rose through the ranks of the cattle industry.
A tenacious entrepreneur, Dietrich helped launch Sun Land Beef Co., which revolutionized the beef industry and became one of the largest beef production companies in the West. After he sold his stake in Sun Land Beef in 1997, Dietrich devoted himself full-time to ranching, which he began as a side business in 1972. Today, his 770,000-acre Diamond A Ranch in Seligman is the largest in Arizona.
“He was basically a self-made man,” said Larry Bell, executive director of the Arizona Jewish Historical Society. “He worked as hard as anybody I’ve ever seen, and you could never go five or 10 minutes without his cell phone ringing with something to do with the cattle and the price of feed and the fall roundup or whatever — he would always have something business-wise going on.”
His legacy in the beef industry includes his fight to remove chemicals, artificial drugs and GMOs from being used in cattle feed and beef production, instead seeking to feed cows a more natural diet.
“We keep looking for a better way to make food safer, better, higher quality,” Dietrich said in a video produced by the AZJHS for the 2019 Heritage Award Gala. “That’s a great mission. You help a lot of people.”
Dietrich earned numerous awards for his work as a cattleman and a philanthropist. In 2014, the Arizona National Livestock Show honored him as the Arizona Pioneer Stockman; in 2015, the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City honored Dietrich with the Chester A. Reynolds Award for “unwavering commitment to Western principles.”
Harvey and Marnie Dietrich supported numerous community organizations over the years, including the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center, the T-Gen Cancer Research Institute, the Jewish National Fund, Hillsdale College, the Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival and the Phoenix Art Museum. Harvey also served on the board of directors of AZJHS and Kivel Campus of Care.
“They’re incredible people in the sense that they value their community and they give back to their community,” said Phyllis Epner, a friend of the Dietrichs.
AZJHS honored Harvey and his wife Marnie with the 2019 Jerry Lewkowitz Heritage Award.
“He was very important as a community philanthropist and supporter,” Bell said. Yet “he was a very quiet and humble guy who didn’t really desire or demand a lot of recognition for his philanthropy.”
Dietrich’s generosity extended to his friends and colleagues, as well. While he wasn’t able to attend many meetings of the AZJHS board of directors, he always brought lunch when he did.
“He was giving,” Lewkowitz said. “He was a generous guy.”
In the AZJHS 2019 Heritage Award Gala video presentation, Dietrich spoke about the importance of standing up to anti-Semitism, of doing the right thing and of giving gifts that improve the lives of others.
“The most important thing, for me and the way I look at things, it’s what you leave in people’s hearts,” Dietrich said. “And the quality of life, if you have that opportunity to change people’s lives, is extremely important.”
Dietrich is survived by his wife, Marnie, and his two children, Lisa and Steve. Rabbi Stephen Kahn of Congregation Beth Israel presided over the funeral service at Beth El Cemetery on Wednesday, Dec. 30.
“Harvey was indeed a man who was larger than life, a man with an insatiable passion for life itself, an unparalleled work ethic well into his 80s and a commitment, especially as he grew in wisdom and in years, to learning from his own life,” Kahn said in his eulogy.
“He possessed knowledge and wisdom, even if others didn’t always like hearing it,” Kahn added. “Harvey required a strong personality to do what he did, with persistence and a commitment to the convictions of his own aspirations.”
Ultimately, Dietrich’s legacy is inextricable from his love of ranching, and his pioneering role in the beef industry in the United States.
“He was the last of the line,” Bell said. “There were others before him, like Eli Grouskay and Aubrey Grouskay and others as well, that were in that business ... I don’t know that there’s any that are following him, though. So he may also be remembered as the last Jewish cowboy, although time will tell.” JN