Dick Hafner: From Sproul Hall to vineyards

unnamedDick and Mary Hafner (center) with the Hafner Vineyard family and crew.

By Sanam Patel, Development Staff

Driving  a vintage flatbed truck between rows of grape vines, Dick Hafner ’50 might seem a world away from Sproul Hall, where he served as a university spokesperson from 1961-86, but his  Healdsburg ranch, grape cultivation and wine making are as much a part of the California story as Cal.

Hafner was one of the thousands of World War II veterans pursue a college degree after the war. Cal’s academic program was tough, and he described how he was lucky to earn a “Gentleman’s C.”

“That’s a phrase from out of the past,” he said. “A Gentleman’s C meant that they were people who just got C’s because they were busy being gentlemen — carrying on and having fun. They weren’t serious scholars, and they spent a lot of time pursuing social pursuits.”

When he was at the Daily Cal, Hafner worked his way up through multiple positions from freshman editor, to senior night editor, and eventually the editor in chief. “The Daily Cal  introduced me to the university and the ideas of the university at an intimate level. The other thing it did was that it really gave me a lot of my early journalism training.”

He met and married Mary Hagar, the daughter of Gerald and Ella Barrows Hagar. Her family resided in Berkeley for well over a century and was closely involved with the University. Mary died in 2017.

Hafner, 92, worked at the Oakland Tribune, the Hayward Daily Review and as a freelance reporter in Southeast Asia.

In 1961, he returned to the university as a public affairs officer. His relationships with the media, including the Daily Cal, were legendary. “Sometimes it was negatively, and many times positively,” he said. “We had battles over the editorials and their viewpoints. Occasionally, we had battles over news stories that we felt were inaccurate, as we were representing the administration.”

Political rallies were almost unheard of when Hafner was a student in comparison to the crowds they draw today. In 1949, his senior year, the Board of Regents ordered a loyalty oath from the faculty in response to perceived Communist threats. The loyalty oath essentially made faculty swear their allegiance to the state constitution and deny any support for organizations that wanted to subvert the U.S. government and its democratic structure. Rather than physically participating in these protests, Hafner reported on this issue and wrote anti-oath editorials. He particularly recalls the day the Board of Regents decided to not take action against those who refused to sign the oath. On this day, he recalled Regent Lawrence Mario Giannini standing up and banging of the table and saying to the Regents, “Gentlemen, the flags will fly in Moscow!”

“That was wonderful,” said Hafner. “Mr. Giannini was afraid the Communists would take over.” Giannini was the son of Bank of America founder A.P. Giannini.

Hafner reminisced about the memory of UC President Bob Sproul introducing the new football coach as an “SOB” which he then clarified to be “son of a bishop” to a crowded Greek Theater.

He also spoke with excitement about the card stunts organized by the Rally Committee in the football stadium. “Some of them got pretty complex,” he said, “They went to where they could have people change cards, which made horses gallop and ducks swim and things like that. It was pretty snazzy.”

Hafner also recalled the day President John F. Kennedy spoke at Charter Day.  “It filled most of the stadium except for a number of sections that the FBI closed off to prevent snipers.”

Hafner’s 51-year-old winery has become a California institution, with his sons, daughter-in-law and granddaughter actively involved.

He’s an Old Blue, but he keeps his distance. “I’m busy raising wine grapes in Sonoma County,” he said, “The vineyard is a long way from Sproul Plaza.”

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