ForeverMissed
Anthony W. “Tony” LaFetra, president and CEO of Rain Bird Corporation, passed away on January 29, 2021. He will be remembered as a passionate business leader whose work has had a lasting impact on the irrigation industry, generations of Rain Bird employees and the community.

During Tony’s tenure, the small irrigation company in Glendora, California was built into the international market leader it is today – a company working hard to promote The Intelligent Use of Water™ around the globe.

Tony led the company’s transformation from a manufacturer of brass impact sprinklers, primarily used in agriculture, to a leading provider of irrigation products used worldwide in landscapes, golf courses, sports fields and farms. He stated that, “The irrigation industry brings moisture to crops and landscapes when the skies do not.”

Tony joined the business in 1964, first serving as a plant manager and later taking on the roles of vice president of sales and marketing, and then executive vice president. In 1978, he succeeded his mother, Rain Bird's co-founder, Mary E. LaFetra, as president and CEO.

Tony’s tenure was highlighted by innovations that revolutionized the irrigation industry, from the world's first computerized central control system for irrigation management in the 1970s to the launch of subsurface drip irrigation to save water and reduce the need for herbicides.

Tony stood for quality in everything he did. He set high expectations for himself, for Rain Bird, and for its employees. Those who knew Tony know that he believed that values are integral to achieving success. Tony was a model of integrity, humility, hard work and care for others.

Tony was an advocate for education. He earned bachelor’s and MBA degrees from Stanford University. He was a life-long learner and placed high value on the education of Rain Bird employees. Many employees at Rain Bird attribute their college educations, advanced degrees and less formal education to the support that Rain Bird has provided to them over the years. Outside of Rain Bird, Tony sat on the boards of directors of several universities. He most recently sat on the Board of Trustees at the University of La Verne, and he donated generously to establish the LaFetra College of Education. Tony once shared, “I know that education transforms lives… so I dedicate my gift... knowing we can impact generations of future teachers and students.”

Tony was also passionate about giving back to the community. He instilled these values at Rain Bird, encouraging employees to donate their time to local communities. Tony supported many organizations, including but not limited to, the Theodore Payne Foundation, Citrus College Foundation, California Native Plants Society and the United Way.

In his free time, Tony enjoyed fishing and hiking and the botany of the Southern California deserts and mountains. On weekends he would escape to his cabin in the nearby mountains, where he was known to enjoy improving his property using his bulldozer.

Tony encouraged Rain Bird employees to enjoy time outside of work and to take care of their health. He promoted exercise, positivity and gratitude.

Tony is survived by his two children, Suzanne LaFetra Collier and Michael LaFetra, his sister Sarah Lynne Ludwick, his brother-in-law Art Ludwick, as well as four grandchildren. 

Posted by Donald Jaeger on January 31, 2022
With all the local California snow recently, I thought about all the great ski strips that I shred with Tony and many other Rain Bird employees Tony was an excellent skier and he took me on some slopes that I probably should not have been on. I think of Tony almost daily and cherish the many memories. 
Posted by DJ Peterson on July 13, 2021
Tony was a master gardener who celebrated and cultivated the unique Southern California landscapes that sustained and inspired him.

Tony served as an enthusiastic and passionate board member and supporter of the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers and Native Plants. He was quiet, thoughtful, do-it-yourself gardener and was known to pull up to the nursery with a trailer hitched to his car and load it up with specimens to put in his landmark garden.

Five years ago, Tony gave a very generous gift (the largest in TPF's history) to help build a new Nature Education Center and Gardens that now bears the LaFetra name. It epitomizes his ethos: the intrinsic beauty and human value in gardening and the importance of being water-wise and sustaining our local landscapes and biodiversity. If you go there today, you will see Tony's legacy and maybe hear his voice in the gentle sound of water cascading over rocks.

On behalf of the TPF Board of Directors, staff, and thousands of members, gardeners, and students who enjoy the enduring legacy of your gifts, thank you for your support over many years. To the LaFetra and Rain Bird families, we share your sadness in his passing.

DJ Peterson
President, Board of Directors
Posted by Mike Baumann on July 12, 2021
I have memories of many interesting experiences working with Tony over the course of my employment at Rain Bird. 

One experience comes to mind in the early 1990's shortly after I joined Rain Bird. I was the Manufacturing Engineer for one of our product lines at our plant in Tijuana. Tony took a tour of this product line and asked about hot plates that we were using on the line. I told him that they were "thermal conditioning devices" and that by soaking one of the plastic components in hot water it prevented the part from fracturing when it was assembled. Tony said "I don't care what you call them, get rid of them!". We redesigned the part and as a result no longer needed to use "thermal conditioning devices" in the manufacture of this product.

Tony helped us to be better and in some cases forced us to be better. I miss Tony and consider myself fortunate to have known him.
Posted by Hairong Zhan on July 12, 2021
Today we will remember Mr Tony Lafedra
 He is a graceful priest have a good personality and charisma rich and keen thinking positive character humorous and the adventurous spirit bring joy to people even four years old children remember Tony grandpa on this special day take my special thoughts of you MrTony Lafedra leave is my pain also a great loss to the people of the world he will always live in my heart love forever my dear
       Hairong  07 /13 /2021
Posted by Jim Ferris on July 11, 2021
Tony once told me that wisdom comes with age and experience, but by the time one acquires enough wisdom it's too late to use it.  I was struck by the modesty of his statement, given his ability over many years to transform a small Glendora based company into an International leader in the irrigation industry.
I was fortunate to work for Tony for some of those years and was always struck by his transformational abilities, his strategic insight, his commitment to quality, and his expectation for performance excellence.
When I joined the company, most of the offices were in trailers in Glendora. Tony had moved into one of the smallest offices in the trailers because he wanted to develop the International business in the one structurally permanent building on the site. When the Azusa facility expanded, he again took one of the smallest offices. Unlike many in the business world today, I always believed that he wanted to send a clear message that commitment to growing the business was much more important that the "trappings of office". He reinforced this message by staying at Red Roof Inns and flying the least expensive coach seat he could find in his domestic and international travels. 
He offered many, including me, the opportunity to take on new positions and added responsibilities. These opportunities for business growth would not have been available in many other companies. He tolerated some learning curve mistakes, but made it very clear when performance didn't meet his expectations.
He also read everything he received. I once got a activity report back that had weird stuff on it. He'd written that it was candle wax that he was using as a light source in his cabin. I believe we all benefited personally and professionally by his personal communication and his performance expectations.
I had the privilege to facilitate a couple of strategic planning sessions after I retired. It provided insight for me into how strategic Tony was, how much he thought about strategy, and how much he valued input from his direct reports.
Tony always put Rain Bird first. He did not make decisions lightly and seemed to give important issues a great deal of thought. He was not afraid to make difficult decisions and did not let his personal feelings get in the way of what he felt was right for the company.
Tony had a great capacity to learn. I was always struck by the depth of his knowledge on many subjects. He knew the Latin names of almost any plant. He rattled off the titles to several books I should read in the air plane on the way to a vacation in Italy. He had some amazing stories about what he learned on his vacation travel all over the world. He was equally at home on his tractor at his cabin as he was in the office.
Tony knew how to live life his way. His many contributions to Rain Bird and to those who had the pleasure of working with him will endure for years to come.

Posted by Charlotte Bontrager on July 10, 2021
I worked for Rain Bird for 14 years - directly for Tony the last four of those. Rain Bird was the most interesting place I have worked due in large part to Tony's management style. He allowed me, sometimes pushed me and often encouraged me to try new things. He recognized when I did something well but also corrected me when I didn't. Besides being my boss, he was my friend. 
Posted by John Wlassich on June 28, 2021
Rain Bird is my employer. A few years ago, I pitched a new technology to Tony which would help us accelerate the design of new products. Tony signed off on the idea, and as I was leaving his office, he asked me to come back and tell him if something unexpected happened in this project.  Despite all of the brains and advanced degrees on the project, no one predicted an unexpected result coming.  So we were like, yeah nah yeah, and thanks for the money.  Well, 6 months into the project something did happen and it was pretty cool. We were able to make a product perform better in an area we never expected.  In hindsight, there is a science-based reason why this is true. Now it seems obvious. But Tony saw it first. 
Posted by Karin Novotny on June 28, 2021
I was so sorry to hear of Tony's passing in January. His influence, drive and focus on results were traits that made a solid impression on my career and helped mold me in many ways.  His commitment to quality, clarity and solid product management set the tone for success for Rain Bird over decades. 

I was lucky to work at RainBird for many years alongside the amazing people that worked there--with Tony at the helm. May the LaFetra family find peace in this tough time. Tony certainly had a positive influence on multitudes of people in several generations.
Posted by Donald Jaeger on June 27, 2021
I worked for Rain Bird for 37 years, most of that time as an engineering manager involved in new product development. Tony had a passion for new products and was very involved with "Lyntone Engineering", the central engineering organization for many years at Rain Bird. I think Lyntone came form the names Tony and Lynn. 

Before Rain Bird had an HR department, I was invited to participate in a meeting to discuss the new HR department that was being planned. The subject of nepotism came up and the decision was made not to allow it in the same division or department. Tony then asked the question "who is going to tell mother". Betty was still involved in the company at that time. Tony brought the house down.

In the 60's or 70's, Tony owned a Jag XKE sports car. Several times, I saw someone with very long hair driving it. Years later when I asked him about it, he told me it was him wearing a long wig!  Long hair was very in at that time but probably not with his mother.

As mentioned earlier, Tony and Rain Bird were very high on education. Their very generous education monitory support policy in the 70's allowed me to secure a BS and MBA from Pepperdine University.

Tony and I stayed very good friends even after I "retired" from Rain Bird in 2000 to own and operate Radio and TV stations, something my brother and father did most of their career. Tony and I had lunch at Glendora's Village Eatery quite often. We always laughed a lot and one hour was never enough time. If he didn't have a meeting, we sometimes stayed for several hours.

Tony my friend, I miss you a lot. May you rest in peace
Posted by Robert De Pietro on June 24, 2021
Tony and I met when we both served on the Board of Trustees at Harvey Mudd College. A friendship was kindled as we would occasionally have lunch together after we left the Board.
I enjoyed these meetings, the discussion and how modest and down to earth Tony was. We spoke about the family history in Glendora, Rainbird and his involvement with the University of La Verne and the LaFetra College of Education.
One weekend Tony invited my wife and I to his "cabin". He showed us around and showed us the small portion where the "cabin" had its beginning. He took pride in showing us the California Native Plants he was growing to replace the non-native vegetation on the property. Tony also let us in on the continuing work on the property that included operating his bulldozer and all terrain vehicle. I will fondly remember that this person, always in a suit and tie, that I had the privilege to know had another side that he let me in on that weekend.
My sympathy to the LaFetra and Ludwick Families.
Posted by RainBird HR on June 22, 2021
March 31, 2021
Tony and I were fraternity brothers at Stanford. I remember Tony as a "force " both physically and mentally who had an entertaining sense of humor. And, over the decades, I very much enjoyed watching him lead Rainbird to become a leader in the field of efficient use of water, this globe's most precious commodity and resource. And his enlightened role as captain of the Rainbird family and enterprise. A job well done Tony. RIP
Jack Clausen, M.D.
Friend
Posted by RainBird HR on June 22, 2021
February 16, 2021
I am so sad to hear of Tony’s passing. I posted this obituary to Facebook and here is what I said. The world lost a very special person.

I had the great pleasure to know Tony through our involvement with NPCA, he was one-of-a-kind and always made me smile. You know the person you always want to sit next to in a meeting? Tony was that guy. He was kind, unassuming and had the best sense of humor. Many know Rainbird, but may not know the guy who founded it was one of the best, most kind hearted people one would ever know. I’m glad I had the opportunity to know him. The world lost a great one.

Mary Martin
Friend
Posted by RainBird HR on June 22, 2021
February 16, 2021
Long ago, Tony and I were good friends. I am sorry to hear of his passing. My mind is brimming with memories of our times together.
George Otto
Classmate
Posted by Elton Yu on June 18, 2021
Tony served the company for more than half a century. We will miss him forever and may he rest in peace!

Leave a Tribute

 
Recent Tributes
Posted by Donald Jaeger on January 31, 2022
With all the local California snow recently, I thought about all the great ski strips that I shred with Tony and many other Rain Bird employees Tony was an excellent skier and he took me on some slopes that I probably should not have been on. I think of Tony almost daily and cherish the many memories. 
Posted by DJ Peterson on July 13, 2021
Tony was a master gardener who celebrated and cultivated the unique Southern California landscapes that sustained and inspired him.

Tony served as an enthusiastic and passionate board member and supporter of the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers and Native Plants. He was quiet, thoughtful, do-it-yourself gardener and was known to pull up to the nursery with a trailer hitched to his car and load it up with specimens to put in his landmark garden.

Five years ago, Tony gave a very generous gift (the largest in TPF's history) to help build a new Nature Education Center and Gardens that now bears the LaFetra name. It epitomizes his ethos: the intrinsic beauty and human value in gardening and the importance of being water-wise and sustaining our local landscapes and biodiversity. If you go there today, you will see Tony's legacy and maybe hear his voice in the gentle sound of water cascading over rocks.

On behalf of the TPF Board of Directors, staff, and thousands of members, gardeners, and students who enjoy the enduring legacy of your gifts, thank you for your support over many years. To the LaFetra and Rain Bird families, we share your sadness in his passing.

DJ Peterson
President, Board of Directors
Posted by Mike Baumann on July 12, 2021
I have memories of many interesting experiences working with Tony over the course of my employment at Rain Bird. 

One experience comes to mind in the early 1990's shortly after I joined Rain Bird. I was the Manufacturing Engineer for one of our product lines at our plant in Tijuana. Tony took a tour of this product line and asked about hot plates that we were using on the line. I told him that they were "thermal conditioning devices" and that by soaking one of the plastic components in hot water it prevented the part from fracturing when it was assembled. Tony said "I don't care what you call them, get rid of them!". We redesigned the part and as a result no longer needed to use "thermal conditioning devices" in the manufacture of this product.

Tony helped us to be better and in some cases forced us to be better. I miss Tony and consider myself fortunate to have known him.
Recent stories

Thank you, Tony.

Shared by Ivonne Flores on July 20, 2021
Probably what I will remember best from Tony will be his laughter. He used to laugh a lot at my jokes and he was himself a really funny person.

In my first strategic plan meeting as HR manager, I was a bit scared and nervous. Tony was in a chair next to me drinking his diet Coke. The conversation got too technical and I must have put a scared face as I tried to catch up to what people were saying because Tony looked at me and he whispered "I understand 20% of what they're saying, so I can only imagine you understand 10% of it." We laughed a lot. He then said: "Don't worry about it. You will learn".

Of course he understood 100% of everything that was shared in that meeting and anywhere in the company, but he made an effort to make me feel welcome. Here he was, the President of the company, helping me, and mentoring me. To me these were acts of incredible generosity and kindness, and I will cherish those moments in my heart forever. Thank you Tony, rest in peace.

By Arthur J. Ludwick

Shared by Chris Yancey on July 14, 2021
AWL Eulogy

July 13, 2021



Welcome:

From the Pacific to the Atlantic, from Europe to Asia, from Down Under to the Northern Hemisphere:I greet you. I am Art Ludwick, Chairman of the Board and Interim President of Rain Bird Corporation.

Today, on what would be his 81st birthday, we will collectively celebrate the life of Anthony W. “Tony” LaFetra, a titan of industry, a business associate, a friend, a philanthropist, a brother, a father, a grandfather, a volunteer, a colleague, a boss, the list goes on and on. Tony passed away on January 29th and was laid to rest on April 14th.

Tony was a complicated personality. He was able to be a friend at the same time he was a relentless critic. He was smart, he was a continual learner, he was wed to his family business, he was a lifelong environmentalist, he was a passionate leader, Tony was unique.

I first met Tony when we were freshmen in college. We joined the same fraternity and found ourselves in many of the same classes as we maneuvered ourselves through the Engineering curriculum. We graduated in the same class and were in many classes together in our individual graduate programs.

Post-graduation I had a one-year master’s program and Tony had two years in the MBA program at Stanford. Tony and his mother found a job at Rain Bird for me after I finished my college life in the summer of 1963. I started in the Accounting Department as a bookkeeper. Tony finished his graduate program in 1964. In 1965 I married Tony’s sister Sarah, the joy of my life for the last 56 years. For 42 years Tony and I were on the Rain Bird payroll together, mostly with Tony serving as my supervisor. I remain active on the Rain Bird Board of Directors, so in fact I worked with Tony for 57 years. Tony left us at the end of January of this year, ending our almost 6-decade relationship.

Tony was a giant of a man. He was well read in a wide range of disciplines. His early education was definitely old school. Reading, writing and arithmetic lessons were not lost as Tony aged. He absorbed books of all kinds, mostly via “Books on Tape” as he drove from the flatlands to his mountain retreat near Idlewild. His writing skills were at work constantly; regularly he sent back written reports to the authors due to errors in spelling, sentence construction or grammar. His math skills were in constant use as he maneuvered through financial reports, engineering documents and other personal and business quantitative problems.

Tony was a man of the environment. From his early days of scouting until his last days as an octogenarian, Tony loved to be out with nature. He loved to fly fish. He loved to hike. He loved to ski. He loved to hop onto his John Deere excavating machine and dig holes and then fill them up. He loved to seek unique outdoor adventures:high speed boating; jungle rafting; mountain hiking; Galapagos sight-seeing; these were some of the adventures that he loved.

He was a champion of education. He was the beneficiary of the teaching skills of many excellent University of La Verne trained educators who taught in the Glendora schools of his youth. He was grateful for the work they did to prepare him for life. He made the decision late in life to honor the work they did for his benefit. He joined the Board of Directors of the University of La Verne, serving it well for the last decade of his long life. He endowed a Chair in the School of Education and followed with a major contribution to the work of the School of Education, now known as the LaFetra School of Education.

Tony was generous at the same time he was frugal. He drove a couple of aged vehicles, rarely getting them in for maintenance. His home suffered from an abundance of Deferred Maintenance. He wrote on the back side of paper documents to make sure that nothing was wasted.

Tony was constantly on a unique diet. One time I grocery shopped for him after he had surgery and could not go to the store. He sent me to parts of the supermarket I did not know existed: Soybeans, tofu, Almond milk, a walk into health foods that opened my eyes to another world.

Tony was a source of great fun at times. Occasionally he was unwittingly laugh provoking:

One adventure that comes to mind was on a beautiful day of outdoor fun at Lake Arrowhead. His mother had a beautiful home on the water at this mountain lake. The family was on the dock enjoying the day. Tony had taken his mother’s ski boat out for a ride. He loved to push the accelerator to such a point that the boat was literally flying above the water. The wake was huge, the motor was singing; the boat would hit the water with a thud then fly as if an airplane. Tony was having fun. We watched with a smile as he raced across the lake. Then all of a sudden, we saw papers flying out of the boat as if confetti was being released in celebration of the speedy exercises. Almost immediately we saw the boat slide to a sudden stop, watching Tony attempt to grab the confetti as it flew through the air. We came to realize that what had happened was pure Tony. He often carried an abundance of large denomination bills so as to have cash ready whenever he needed it. Apparently, his wallet was beside him, and with all the bumping and thumping, the wallet gave way and began releasing its contents in protest of the tension it felt. Currency of many denominations were launched to the heavens as the speedy boat pounded the water. Tony tried to grab them, but even he had problems given the pace of the boat. Yikes, we said as we laughed at the site, at the same time grateful that it was Tony and not us. When he returned to the dock, he was silent. The event of that day was never talked about. Consider the book closed I thought. Tony did not like to be the subject of humorous memories.

An amazing and charismatic man was this brother-in-law of mine.His life was long, his accomplishments were unparalleled, his competitiveness was keen, his love of life and adventure was deep, his concern for education was high, and his sense of direction was always clear.He once told me that he really wanted to be an educator, but that he gave in to a sense of obligation to join the family business.I think we can all be glad that he did pursue the family business. Because if Tony La Fetra had pursued the path of educator, many of our lives would not have been the same.Without his contribution, the Rain Bird we know today would not exist.There would be no LaFetra School of Education on the campus of the University of La Verne. There would be no LaFetra Endowed Chair at the University of La Verne. There would be no state-of-the-art irrigation control system at Harvey Mudd College.Organizations too numerous to mention would not have been enriched by the skillful leadership and quiet financial contributions that he often offered.And I am especially glad, for without that decision on his part to go to Stanford and get his undergraduate and graduate degrees in Engineering and Business, I would not be here today, the proud husband of his sister Sarah & the father of our three children, uncle to his two children, and friend and business associate for almost six decades. And all of you would not have been able to know and appreciate the Tony we celebrate today.

Tony, you opened the door for the wonderful life I have led as a colleague in your business and as a member of your family. I am forever indebted.

A Call to Remember

Shared by Kumar Sitaraman on July 13, 2021
During the lockdown last year, I was working in my home office after Memorial Day weekend, and had just published the quality reports for the business units that I supported. My cell phone rang with 626 number that I didn't recognize and I almost didn't answer. I only picked up because I was working with Azusa plant at the time. The caller says: "Kumar, this is Tony LaFetra!". It was a good that I didn't fall off my chair.

He had just read my previous month's report and called to congratulate me for the excellent quality results and how pleased he was about the progress made over the past several years in Golf. Although I had been in several meetings with Tony in the past, my one-on-one interactions with him were limited. We chatted for a few minutes about the results and team contributions that made it possible and switched to personal health, family etc. 

This brief interaction meant a lot to me and I was so excited that I shared the interaction first with my family and then with my bosses. The fact that the President took the time to make a personal call acknowledging positive results is the highlight of my career at Rain Bird beyond any awards or other accolades. I am glad to have known him.