Historic Northern California Family Calls UC Davis Home

Dale McBride (left), Tom (middle), and Don (left) at Tom and Brooke's graduation.
Dale McBride (left), Tom (middle), and Don (left) at Tom and Brooke's graduation.

The descendants of one of the first families to settle in Northern California in the 1850s still live near Davis and call UC Davis their home. Donald (Don) McBride ’66 and 14 of his family members, spanning three generations, graduated from UC Davis with a total of 16 degrees.

“Lately, I see UC Davis mentioned more in the news because of its educational expertise and reputation of being a beautiful, friendly campus,” said Don, a Cal Aggie Alumni Association Life Member. “It’s easy for me to recommend UC Davis to my friends with grandchildren who are looking for colleges because of my time spent at the university and growing up in the Sacramento Valley raising sheep. UC Davis feels like home because it smells like the old homestead.”

The smell of animals was how UC Davis, previously called University Farm, was most well known in 1905. Don’s ancestors completed non-degree programs offered at University Farm in the 1930s; however, Don’s family history in California begins far before the university existed.

Three Generations of Aggies

Jonathan, Don’s great grandfather, travelled to California from Ohio with his brothers in 1850 during the gold rush. In 1856, Jonathan moved to the Sacramento Valley and later established a homestead on a quarter section of land under the Homestead Act of 1862, located in the Tremont District of Solano County. Jonathan and his wife Caroline had several children, including Alvin, who took over the farm and started the UC Davis lineage.

Alvin’s three children, Jean, Jack and Dorothy, were all associated with University Farm. Jack completed a two-year agriculture certificate program in 1935 along with Jean’s husband, Thomas McBride. Dorothy’s husband, William B. Davis, earned three degrees and spent most of his career working at UC Davis.   

“My father [Thomas McBride] was a farmer in Antelope, near Roseville,” Don said. “In those days, there was no fire department in Antelope and a fire would devastate the wheat, barley and oats crops grown there. With the help of some other local farmers, he got a fire truck and they basically had their own fire department. He donated the fire truck to UC Davis in the 70s.”

The McBride Family

Don remembers learning of new scientific discoveries from researchers at the university in the early years of molecular biology.

“One thing that stands out in my memory was a 4H club conference here in the mid-50s,” Don said. “I was 13 or 14 years old and researchers from UC Davis were doing experiments with the recently discovered DNA. DNA was not in our biology textbooks at the time, and just thinking about it makes me feel old.”

Don eventually attended UC Davis and studied math. His son, Thomas (Tom) McBride Ph.D. ’11 decided to attend UC Davis after graduating from MIT and working at a biotech startup company. Tom met his wife, Brooke Babineau ’03 Ph.D. ’10, at UC Davis where they both studied neuroscience.

“I didn’t push Tom to attend UC Davis,” Don said. “I just told him he ought to consider UC Davis because of its excellent reputation in biological sciences.”

Don’s brother, Dale McBride ’69 and his wife Marty Morgan ’69 attended UC Davis; their daughter, Kathryn (Katy) McBride ’02 studied plant biology at UC Davis where she met her husband, David Hodges ’02.

Thomas McBride donated this fire truck to UC Davis in the 1970s.

“UC Davis always has a very comfortable feel,” Katy said. “When my cousin, Tom, was completing his Ph.D., we would go rock climbing together. I think the reason so many of our family members attended UC Davis was not only because of the area, but we were drawn to the educational value and strong programs the university offered.”     

Don and many of his family members continue to support UC Davis through donations. He says he gives back in this way because he valued his time at the university and hopes to see it expand even more.

The Davis Family

William (Bill) Davis Jr. ’79 M.D. ’83 is Dorothy’s son and his family also has close ties with UC Davis. His father earned three degrees at UC Davis, including a bachelors in science, master’s in education and masters in science. Bill’s sister, Pamela ’72, and two of his four sons, Benjamin (Ben) Ph.D. ’05 MAS ’09 and Ryan ’11, are all alumni.

“I read books at the Shields Library when I was 10 years old, and I knew the insides and outs of all the UC Davis dairy farms by the time I was 12,” Bill said. “My father’s office was near the chicken coops at the agricultural extension, which is now Wellman Hall.”

Bill said having family support was partially why he attended UC Davis. He is now a primary care doctor at a small office in Winters, Calif., offering his services to everyone and sometimes getting paid in “water heaters, chickens, tamales, and more.”

“UC Davis has one of the few medical schools that really emphasizes and respects primary care,” Bill said. “My biggest connection with the university is through the medical school. I’ve had UC Davis medical students in my office since 1987.”

Ben’s connection with UC Davis was through his research as a molecular biologist for the Center for Health and the Environment before passing away from ALS at 38 years old. Ryan worked at the lab to help support Ben and also met his wife, Sarah McCullough Ph.D. ’13, who is the associate director of Feminist Research Institute at UC Davis.

“I would never question recommending the university to future generations,” Bill said. “UC Davis always feels like home.”

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