By Kevin Newhouse
Local Aptos resident Agnes Reed celebrated her 100th birthday on March 9, 2017. Agnes comes from a long line of Aptos residents and although she was born in San Francisco, she spent many summers coming to Aptos as a young girl. I recently had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Agnes about her family, her memories of Aptos, and the secret to living a long and happy life.
Agnes is the great-granddaughter of Claus Mangels, a prominent and important player in our town’s early history. Most history buffs are familiar with Claus Spreckels, the “Sugar King” of the Pacific Coast and one of the wealthiest men to ever live. Claus Mangels was Claus Spreckels’ brother-in-law and business partner.
Mangels acquired approximately 550-acres of land from Spreckels and Vicente Castro in today’s Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. This property became known as “Mangels Ranch.” In 1888, Mangels built his summer ranch home on the property. It was built with clear heart redwood from the Loma Prieta Mill.
Its 15 rooms include 10 bedrooms, a kitchen and butler’s pantry, two parlors, a dining room, a card room, a full basement, 3000 square feet of living space on each of its two floors, 14-foot ceilings on the main floor and a full attic topped by a “widow’s walk.” The style is called “Carpenter’s Gothic.”
The estate stayed in the family through four generations until 1979 when it was sold to Dr. Ron and Jackie Fisher. The Fisher’s operated a beautiful bed-and-breakfast until Jackie’s passing in 2004. The house was then kept as the private residence of Dr. Fisher, who passed away earlier this year.
It was at this house, in the early 1920s, where Agnes would spend summers visiting her grandmother. Spending time with extended family was important and the ranch was a place where they could all come together.
Agnes has fond memories of playing with her cousins at the ranch and enjoying the beauty of the surrounding area. It is quite obvious how much Agnes loves her family and how important they are to her. Even today, her face lights up when she talks about the Mangels Ranch.
Agnes also remembers taking trips to the beach as a young girl. Her son, Mark, has recently transferred some home movies from 1928 of the Mangels, Tillmann, and van Eck families (all closely related) down at Rio Del Mar Beach. The footage shows a young Agnes having fun in the surf and sand!
Over the years, the Mangels Ranch was split up among Claus Mangels’ grandchildren. Agnes’ mother (Agnes Tillmann van Eck) and father (Jan Carel van Eck) were among those who ended up land on the ranch.
The story of Agnes’ father is quite fascinating. His full name and title was Baron Jan Carel van Panthaleon van Eck. Born in 1880, van Eck was the son of a Dutch army general.
The Baron, who was employed with Royal Dutch Shell, came to San Francisco in 1911 as part of two-man team to research the possibility of starting an oil business on the West Coast. The following year he formed American Gasoline Company, which would later become Shell Oil.
In 1923 van Eck went to New York to head the newly organized Shell Union Oil Corporation, a holding company for the Shell interests in the United States. In 1935, he was made a managing director of Royal Dutch Shell. He retired in 1947.
He and Agnes Tillmann were married on June 30, 1914, at the Tillmann residence in San Francisco. The bride was described as wearing a robe of ivory toned crepe charmeuse draped with rare lace. Surely the event was nothing short of an elaborate affair. Their European honeymoon had to be cut short, like many others, on account of World War I. They would eventually have 5 children, one of who is Agnes, the subject of this article.
It should be known that even though van Eck was born into the title “Baron,” the designation played no part in his work ethic, attitude, or self-image. Truth be told, it was purely an American obsession with status that van Eck would always be known as “The Baron” and Agnes as “The Baroness.” In fact, titles are very rarely used in Holland and his Dutch friends simply referred to them as Mr. and Mrs. van Eck. They weren’t by any means ashamed or embarrassed by the Baron/Baroness titles but they did prefer the simpler, less ostentatious designation of Mr. and Mrs.
Mr. van Eck passed away in February 1965 at the age of 85. In all accounts, van Eck was a very well liked man and very respected. To honor his legacy, his wife Agnes donated two-acres of land, which included a giant old-growth redwood tree to the state parks system.
It was her children’s idea to organize a ceremony and dedicate the tree to their parents. The dedication ceremony took place on June 26, 1971. At that time, the tree stood 200 feet in height, 35-1/2 feet in circumference (near the base), and was estimated to be approximately 1,500 years old.
The dedication plaque, which is shaped like a shell in honor of van Eck’s involvement in the Shell Oil Company, and the redwood tree still exist today. It can be seen on the east side of the Aptos Creek Road about 3/4 mile from Soquel Drive.
In addition to the van Eck tree memorial, there are several areas in Nisene Marks named after Agnes’ family members. These include the van Eck Grove, Tillmann Grove, George’s Picnic Area, and the Emmett Reed Picnic Area, named after Agnes’ late husband.
Agnes and Emmett were married in 1941. They lived on the east coast and just as she had done as a young girl, they would visit Aptos during the summer. In the late 1940s, the Reed family returned to the west coast, living in Hillsborough and enjoying the Mangels Ranch as a weekend and summer retreat.
In 1960, they built a home on the ranch. In 1974, they decided to make it their permanent residence. Emmett loved the forest and even served on the Advisory Committee of Nisene Marks. He passed away in 1990 but his name lives on with the Emmett Reed Picnic Area.
Agnes continues to live in the Reed family home on Mangels Ranch. Two of her three sons also live on the property, continuing the family tradition as sixth-generation residents of the ranch! One of the cousins that Agnes used to play with as a child, Karl Mertz, also lived on the ranch until his passing last year at just a couple months shy of 100 years old.
As I was sitting with Agnes, listening to the wonderful stories of her past and eating the very tasty cookies she had baked for me, it became very clear that her happiness is real. It was even contagious. I felt at peace just sitting there with her. I had to ask what her secret is. Her answer was simple: Live your life with love and compassion for each other.
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