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The McGrath Family: Pioneers in agriculture, civic life, and philanthropy

The McGraths are one of Ventura County’s oldest and most influential families. For nearly 150 years, family members have been pioneers in agriculture, civic life, and philanthropy as farmers, business leaders, lawyers, judges, politicians, and philanthropists. Through their generous support of St. John’s Hospitals, the family has made a lasting impact on health care in our community since 1912.

The McGrath family legacy in Ventura County dates back to 1876, when Irish immigrant farmers Dominick and Bridget McGrath settled in the Oxnard area. The couple built a small clapboard house and started a mixed farm near the mouth of the Santa Clara River, raising cattle and growing grain and hay. Along with their neighbor and friend Adolfo Camarillo, who co-founded the city of Camarillo, the McGraths soon became one of the first farmers in the area to grow lima beans, the backbone of agriculture on the Oxnard Plain in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Over the next decades, the couple, their ten children, and their numerous grandchildren successfully expanded into dairy farming, sugar beets, and row crops, and amassed thousands of acres of farmland in the process. In the 1960s, the family sold one of their plots of coastal land to the State of California to create McGrath State Beach, one of the best bird-watching areas in the state.

Philanthropy has been important to all generations of McGraths. The family has supported St. John’s Hospitals, Santa Clara Church, Santa Clara High School, Villanova Preparatory School, and other faith-based organizations for more than a century. One family member, Robert Edward McGrath, was ordained a priest in 1936 and became the procurator of Villanova Preparatory School.

The McGrath family’s biggest philanthropic impact on our community has been in the area of health care through their support of St. John’s Hospitals. In 1912, family members were among the civic leaders who co-founded the first St. John’s Hospital together with the Sisters of Mercy over concern about insufficient health care on the Oxnard Plain. In 1920, Joseph McGrath, Sr., became one of the founding members of the hospital’s Advisory Council, the predecessor of today’s Hospital Community Board. In the late 1940s, Miriam Boothe McGrath worked as a nurse at the hospital. In 1952, Leo McGrath co-founded “The Humanitarians,” a dedicated group of local physicians and businessmen who made significant contributions to St. John’s to ensure high-quality health care in our community.

In the late 1980s, the family made their single most impactful gift to St. John’s. Bette and John F. McGrath donated 48 acres of prime farmland at Gonzales Road and Rose Avenue in Oxnard upon which St. John’s Regional Medical Center was built. When St. John’s first approached the couple about the donation, John and Bette immediately liked the idea. Bette’s eyes lit up and she responded: “Yes, we need to do that. That’s a good thing for our community.” In 1995, the main access roads to the new hospital campus were named “McGrath Drive” in honor of this enduring gift.

The next generations of McGraths have carried the family’s legacy of supporting St. John’s into the 21st century as donors, members of the Humanitarian Gift Society, patients, and advocates. “We’re so glad St. John’s is here,” declared John McGrath’s children Kathleen (“Kitty”) and Tim. “Our father had surgery and other procedures there, and the care he received was phenomenal. St. John’s Hospitals have some of the best doctors in the entire state and provide top quality health care for everyone in our community.”



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