When they were ready to retire, Ken and Patt Koral moved to Tuolumne County with the idea of farming, meeting their neighbors and living a rural lifestyle.
Since then, they have become known for taking an active role in the community, belonging to several service organizations and helping with many fundraising efforts.
“We had no intention of being this busy,” Ken Koral said. “We just figured we would get to know our neighbors, but one thing led to another. We have made great friends.”
Raised in the Bay Area, they were drawn to Tuolumne County because their 35-year-old son, Ben, has Down’s syndrome, and Patt’s research indicated WATCH Resources Inc. was one of the best programs of its kind in the country.
Founded in 1972, WATCH helps people with intellectual disabilities in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties become as independent as possible and be an integral part of the community.
Ken said he fell in love with their two-story, nine-bedroom house with a seven-stall horse barn and 1,200-square-foot building near Twain Harte as soon as he saw it.
“It took Patt a little longer,” he said. “It needed a lot of work.”
It had once been a home for troubled boys, he said. They bought it in 1998 and moved to it in 1999 from Redwood City. Patt continued working in the Bay Area until 2000, commuting to Twain Harte on weekends.
Ken retired in 1999. He was an electrician who moved into project estimating management. As it turned out, he got a call soon after his retirement to consult on a project to build a new terminal for American Airlines at J.F.K. International Airport in New York City, and ended up working there for five years, commuting every Thursday night to spend weekends in Twain Harte.
When he finished that project, he was called to be an electrical consultant on the new Yankee Stadium for 18 months, then spent another three years consulting on a San Bernardino Airport project, commuting every weekend. He retired again in August 2011.
Their daughter, Deena Koral-Soto, is the resource teacher at Summerville High School, Associated Student Body instructor, academic adviser for the school football team and adviser for the Bears Service Club. Her husband, Matt, owns SERT Fitness, based at the family home in Twain Harte, doing strength and conditioning training, mainly for athletes at Summerville High.
Deena and Matt were married in 2002 in a gazebo on the property, and they live in the upstairs portion of the house with their adopted daughter, Madison, 4. The family also includes several dogs, cats, horses, chickens, ducks and a pony.
Many of their pets are rescue animals they got from Friends of the Animal Community.
Ken and Patt plan to shed more than a few tears when the senior members of the Summerville High football team graduate in June.
“A lot of them have been like our children,” Patt said. “Just last night, we had nine of them here for dinner.”
They cater all the dances at Summerville High at no charge.
“Kids pay for enough,” Patt said.
They started their farm, BenDe Farms, named for their children, Ben and Deena, in 1999. Most of what they grow is given away. They give eggs to the Humane Society of Tuolumne County Thrift Shop, for example.
They are also busy in other ways. In addition to working the farm he has always wanted, Ken is active in the Twain Harte Rotary Club, is on the committee to oversee how money is spent from Measure H, the $8 million bond measure voters passed for Summerville High School, and is a member of Sons in Retirement.
Patt is active in Soroptimist International of Twain Harte, serves on the board of directors of Sierra Repertory Theatre and WATCH Resources and joined the Meals on Wheels fundraising committee this year.
She is also involved in Sierras Against Slavery with the Center for a Nonviolent Community.
“We feel so fortunate ,” she said. “More people should get moved to help their community. It’s so rewarding. What we give, we get back 10-fold in how it makes us feel, and we have to stay busy. It’s what keeps us young.”