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The World of Jack London

Milo Shepard: The Complete Man

By Earle Labor
Centenary College of Louisiana

Milo Shepard Rancher, Ranger, Viticulturist, Scholar, Benefactor, Friend: Milo Shepard was truly a Man for All Seasons. Born and reared on the Jack London Ranch, he capably ran the family dairy for many years before enlisting in the California State Park system. He later returned to the Ranch at the call of his father and began planting what ultimately became a state-of-the-art model vineyard, nurturing bountiful crops of grapes on the fertile volcanic soil of the Sonoma Mountain. His Jack London Vineyard achieved worldwide renown as those grapes were distilled, bottled, and distributed by the Kenwood Winery in bottles etched with Jack's famous Wolf-head logo.

All that would have been more than enough for the lifetime achievement of any ordinary man—but Milo Shepard was anything but ordinary. With the passing of his father, he inherited the legacy of Jack London literary executor—a fulltime vocation in itself. Now, even while managing his vineyard, he had to master the intricate complexities of a world totally foreign to farming: a world many of whose occupants had been alienated throughout their lives from most things earthbound and soiled. Here were individuals whose careers were more closely attuned to human nature that to Mother Nature—scholars whose hands were more adept at the keyboard than at the plow. Many men would have been intimidated by such a challenge. Milo, a natural-born nobleman, accepted the challenge with appropriate noblesse oblige. His gentilesse notwithstanding, he suffered neither fools nor pretentious academics gladly. Totally without pretense himself, he had little patience for that attitude in others—particularly the members of my own profession. I remember one of his favorite jokes and can still hear his gruffy deep baritone:

This guy dies, goes up, and knocks on the Golden Gate of Heaven.
"Who is it?" asks St. Peter.
"It is I," says the man.
"Go to Hell, you damned English teacher!" orders St. Peter.

Then he chuckles, and I see that telltale twinkle in his blue eyes—as so often I noticed when he tweaked me with his dry wit. Wit and a fine sense of irony he possessed in abundance. Because of his John Wayne size and attitude, those who didn't really know him sometimes failed to appreciate his subtle sense of humor. Another of my favorite memories recalls our first trip down to Huntington Library. After an extensive tour, including the high-security cellar vault, we came back up to the main reading room, a spacious, two-tiered area surrounded by fully packed bookshelves from floor to ceiling. Checking his watch, our young guide said,

"Milo, I see we still have fifteen minutes before we're due to go over to the dining-hall for lunch. Is there anything else you'd like to see while we're waiting?"
"Got anything to read around here?" Milo answered.
Taking the bait, our guide answered, "Oh, yes, we have The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Christian Science Monitor, and several other newspapers."
"Well, I guess we can just stroll around the gardens for a few minutes," Milo said, never cracking a smile.

While we would have never admitted it, he was a true scholar as Ralph Waldo Emerson defined that word: not a bookworm, but a man whose character was influenced by Nature and Action as well as by Books. No truer scholar's life is complete without vigorous action, Emerson asserted: "Only so much do I know as I have lived." Milo had lived his life as fully as any man—more so than most men—including his life of the mind. He was exceptionally well-read and well-informed on matters cultural and intellectual as well as political, and I never visited him without noting current journals and books on the coffee table in his living-room.

He was not only a "doer" but also a "giver" generous beyond measure. Books (often scarce first editions of London's works), artifacts (including those collected by London himself on his many trips abroad), and—his favorite gift—wine: all theses he bestowed upon his friends. I seldom left for home without several bottles of the Jack London⁄Kenwood vintage. The same generosity benefited many of his other guests just as well.

Of course I consider his most impressive benefaction the magnificent collection of artifacts and archival materials he donated to Centenary College in 1988, which is a story in itself. Our President, Dr. Donald Webb, had approached one of Centenary's devoted alumni and a generous member of our Board of Trustees, Samuel Peters, with a proposal that College establish a Jack London Research Center under my direction. Fortunately, Mr. Peters had already enjoyed a visit to the Ranch with his wife Ann and had therefore established a bond with Milo. When Milo learned of Dr. Webb's proposal, he called Mr. Peters and said, "Sam, you give the building, and I'll fill it with memorabilia and research materials." The result: a research facility and museum which has already attracted such noteworthy London scholars as Daniel Dyer, Eiji Tsujii, and Earl Wilcox, along with countless admirers of our unique museum displays.

How can one measure such benefactions? Milo's donations to the Jack London Research Center have been duly appraised, but the gift of his friendship is beyond measure. He was the big brother I looked up to for wisdom and guidance for nearly a half-century—the model for true manhood. He was "Uncle Milo" to my children, who loved him—indeed, adored him. Of all the treasures he generously gave, his heart was the greatest.

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