Denair High School’s oldest surviving alumnus, Sterling Pratt, celebrates his 100th birthday on Saturday, Dec. 5 and though he no longer lives in the area, many in the community want to congratulate him on his milestone.
Initially, there was to be a tribute paid to Mr. Pratt on Saturday during a 5K run put on by the Denair High FFA chapter. Unfortunately, that event has been postponed until early next year by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Still, some members of the Denair family would like to call attention to Mr. Pratt’s big day.
Mr. Pratt was born on Dec. 5, 1920 to Charles and Myrtis Pratt. He grew up on his family’s dairy farm at the corner of Hamlow and Gratton roads. His brother, Calvin, was born in 1925.
When Mr. Pratt was a young boy, his father bought the grocery store in Denair. A few years later, he built a new store called Denair Cash Store at what is now the Village Market location. Mr. Pratt recalls stocking shelves and cleaning eggs at the store. He preferred working there to his chores at the dairy.
In 1936, Charles Pratt sold the market to Harold and Lola Chance Walton – a deal that would loom large later in Sterling Pratt’s life.
Mr. Pratt graduated from Denair High in 1938. He said his favorite subjects were math and science. He took a year off school to work at the lumberyard his father owned on the north side of Denair, then began attending Modesto Junior College in the fall of 1939. Still intrigued by science, Mr. Pratt took classes like organic chemistry and quantitative analysis.
While at MJC, Mr. Pratt went back to work at the Waltons’ market. It was there he met the Waltons’ daughter, Dorothy, who would one day become his wife.
After MJC, Mr. Pratt enrolled at UC Berkeley, where he majored in chemical engineering.
His career in engineering took him to Ohio, New York, Nevada, Arizona, Texas, Australia and Kuwait. He worked as a sales engineer in the petro-chemical industry and designed and estimated the cost of process equipment to be fabricated in the shop. Mr. Pratt’s work history included jobs with Union Carbide, Aerojet, Frost Engineering and Braun. His final project prior to retiring was estimating the cost to build a refinery in Kuwait.
He and Dorothy retired in LaVerne, in Southern California. Before her death, they enjoyed extensive travels including Yosemite, Canada, Africa, Montana, Oregon and Peru. They had three sons – Mike, Tom and Erik – plus a “bonus” son, Doug Sallen, whom they considered their own.
Asked to sum up his life and career, Mr. Pratt once wrote: “Every day has been a learning experience.
New knowledge always brings me some satisfaction, even if it is insignificant.”