Fred was born March 5, 1935 and grew up on a dairy farm in Scotts Valley just outside of Lakeport, California. He started his lifetime journey into print journalism when he was 10 years old.
Fred’s interest sparked when he learned his elementary school teacher was a former reporter at a local newspaper. She taught him about news publishing and the printing process and encouraged him to pursue his dream of publishing his own weekly local newspaper, which he did. At the age of 10!
He received a child’s printing press as a gift and was off and running, telling everyone about his idea of a local paper in Scotts Valley. Neighboring farmers would call Fred with stories that their chickens had been killed, their cow had run off, their tractor had broken down. He also picked up gossip and stories listening in on the family’s 16-party party-line phone.
He did it all! He gathered the stories, wrote, edited, published and delivered the papers on his bike – rain or shine. Everyone in the valley who knew about it loved his paper and subscribed – about 50 families in total.
Publishing his own paper eventually inspired him to work at the local newspaper, the Lake County Bee, doing odd jobs and working as a copy boy. From there he went off to Humboldt State in Arcada, CA where he majored in journalism. While at Humboldt he worked at the Eureka radio station KHUM. He was hired to do odd jobs, sweeping the station, emptying trash and going through teletype rolls to find news pertinent to the area. He quickly moved into other jobs - commercials, news reporting and DJ work.
After college Fred was drafted into the U.S. Army where he served for two years in Fort Bliss, Texas. He wasn’t going to let being drafted into the army get in his way of his dream career. He worked at a public information office under Sam Donaldson before Donaldson became the ABC News correspondent.
After leaving the Army, Fred worked for KVIQ-TV in Eureka, CA and subsequently became their first news director. Four years later he was hired by KPIX Channel 5 as a cameraman. He also briefly worked at CBS-TV in Los Angeles and as the Assistant News Director at KGO-TV before going to KTVU Channel 2.
He worked 21 years at KTVU as their news director and retired in 1999. From what I’ve read and been told, Fred used great judgment, had a gentle demeanor and gave many people their start at their dream jobs working in front of the camera and behind the scenes.
Fred founded the San Leandro Times in 1991, working part-time on the paper while he was still working full-time as the KTVU News Director. He later purchased the Castro Valley Forum – both papers are free community papers. Fred was interested in keeping print paper and said he would stop if he had to go fully digital.
Everyone loved Fred! He was easy to work with which is very evident from stories people have shared.
At the age of 87 Fred was still going strong and was still living his dream of local print publishing.
Now for a little about Fred’s personal life.
Fred grew up with his three brothers on a dairy farm in Scotts Valley near Lakeport, CA. There is quite an age gap between Fred, his two older brothers John and Bob, and their youngest brother Dave.
It was a busy life as the brothers all helped their hard-working father, Joe, with farm chores. They lived a modest lifestyle growing up in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s.
His father’s parents, who homesteaded the farm in the 1890s, still lived on the farm while the boys were growing up. They migrated to the United States from Switzerland in the 1880’s. Their mother Alma took care of the grandparents in their later years and was a hard-working farm wife. In her spare time, she loved to write stories and short novels. She passed away in 1973.
Fred’s interest in journalism started in elementary school when he founded, produced, published and delivered the “Scotts Valley News”, a one-page local child’s newspaper that many of the neighbors subscribed to and loved. They all thought it was cute. More about this job is noted above in his work history – as that was his first official job as an entrepreneur.
Fred was never married and never had children. He lived a quiet life doing what he loved most. He loved panning for gold in the 60s and 70s in the Sierra foothills on weekends. Fred loved gardening and was known to be able to make anything grow. He had a green thumb just like his younger brother, Dave.
He loved his evening walks around the quiet town of Alameda and loved feeding squirrels in the park. For years he had an indoor “free-range” pet rabbit trained to use a kitty litter box.
Fred was vibrant and healthy. At 87 years old he was still working more than full-time, 10-12 hours per day, on his two papers the San Leandro Times and Castro Valley Forum. Since the pandemic his staff diminished greatly, leaving him to do much of the work with the help of his long-time friends and business associates, the Morrisons.
He liked English sports cars and drove a Triumph TR4 and a Rover in the 60s and 70s that he loved. He drove a Plymouth Valiant in the early 60s that had a push-button transmission that his younger brother loved to sit and play in when he came home on weekends.
He purchased a huge linotype printing machine that he kept in Oakland and initially used it to print the paper. He has worked closely with his long-time and dear friends Howard and Claudette Morrison publishing the two papers. Their children also worked helping with the papers.
Fred was like a grandfather to the Morrison’s children who adored him. They would come visit and their parents would surprise Fred. They would hear the laughter between the children and Fred when he opened the door for them. Fred’s loss has devastated their family as well as ours.
It was déjà vue when Fred’s family learned about his death. In 1986 the Zehnder brothers and their wives were planning a big celebration for their father, Joe’s, 90th birthday. He passed away peacefully in his sleep the week before. It was shocking because he had been in excellent health still living alone, working in his garden, doing home repairs and helping neighboring widows with their gardens and yards.
About three weeks before Fred’s tragic death, several family members felt the need to get the four brothers together right away. The last time all four were together, aside from deaths in the family, was in the late 90s. Although the brothers were unable to physically get together often, there was always a very strong bond between them. Their phone conversations were long and filled with childhood memories growing up on the farm. This get-together was important and special.
Everyone was able to make it the following weekend – except Fred. It was Fred’s work schedule, still publishing two local papers, that delayed the brothers getting together. While anxiously awaiting July 9 at Old Ironside in Sacramento, Fred’s older brother Bob was so excited. Every night he would say “It’s great that the Zehnder brothers can finally get together without a family tragedy.” Little did any of us know what was about to happen.
On Sunday evening, June 27, Fred was taking his evening walk around the quiet streets of Alameda when was struck and killed by Michael Alexander Williams, a 30-year-old driver in a raised F-150 pickup truck who was arrested on suspicion of drugs and alcohol. He was out on bail a week later. During the prior year, Williams was allegedly arrested for drunk driving and drugs, as well as traveling over 80 MPG on Alameda city streets. The same area where he killed Fred.
I don’t know if this man realizes the impact of his actions. What he’s taken from so many people who truly loved and admired Fred. Does he realize that because of his selfish and irresponsible behavior he stripped Fred of his last wish – to have his body donated to science – due to the severe blunt force trauma to Fred’s body on impact?
Fred was living his dream. We all know he wasn’t done. He was healthy and vibrant and had much life left to live. He was taken in such a tragic and abrupt way that it has left his family, the Morrison’s and his extended media family in shock and disbelief.
He will be greatly missed! May he RIP!
Fred is survived by his older brother, John Franklin Zehnder, a retired teacher and farmer in Modesto, CA; his older brother, Robert Joseph Zehnder, a retired public accountant in Davis, CA; his younger brother, David Richard Zehnder, a retired police officer from the San Francisco Bay Area now living in Washington State; his sister-in-law, Isabelle Zehnder; his seven nephews, Andy Zehnder, Chris Zehnder, Jim Zehnder, Mark Zehnder, David Zehnder, Rob Zehnder, Mitch Zehnder; his one niece, Carolyn Zehnder; his second family, the Morrison’s; all the Zehnder great nieces and nephews; and Fred’s extended media family.
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