As an infant, she was bitten by a rattlesnake. She grew up surrounded by cattle branding and roping in the remote ranchlands along the slopes of Mount Hamilton. And in the 1940s, she rode horses for miles across the rugged landscape that later would become Henry W. Coe State Park -- a scenic preserve named for her grandfather.
But Winnifred Hannah Coe Verbica was more than a cowgirl from one of Santa Clara County's oldest pioneer families. As the "Valley of Heart's Delight" transformed into Silicon Valley, she also graduated with an economics degree from Stanford University, attended law school there, wrote poetry and maintained a friendship with tech giants David Packard and William Hewlett, who owned a neighboring ranch next to her family's spread.
"My mother had a foothold in two worlds, being from a rural ranch experience but also Stanford Law School," said Peter Verbica of Santa Cruz, her son. "She really assimilated into city culture as well as ranching culture. She was able to adapt."
Coe Verbica died on March 31 at the age of 78.
For her entire life, she maintained a connection to the rolling hills and oak woodlands of the San Felipe Valley, a rustic area east of San Jose's Evergreen neighborhood in the foothills over the ridge from Highway 101 -- a world away from the sprawl of San Jose.
Coe Verbica's great-grandfather, Henry W. Coe Sr., came to California from New Hampshire during the 1849 Gold Rush and eventually bought 150 acres in an area known as The Willows, which today is San Jose's Willow Glen neighborhood. When his fruit tree and hops farm didn't flourish, he bought a 479-acre cattle ranch in 1876 in the San Felipe Valley.
His sons, Charles and Henry W. Coe, Jr., expanded the cattle ranch over the years, buying neighboring properties and homesteading others. Eventually, after Henry Jr., known as "Harry," died in 1943, his daughter, Sada Coe Robinson, donated 12,230 acres to Santa Clara County in 1950 to establish a public park in her father's name. The county couldn't afford to keep it up and sold it to the California state parks department in 1958 for $10.
Today, Henry W. Coe State Park is roughly 90,000 acres -- the second-largest state park in California -- expanded over the past half-century through public land purchases and deals with land trusts such as the Nature Conservancy that kept its vast landscape from being carved into subdivisions or private estates.
Coe Verbica appreciated that her aunt had preserved the family ranch, along with its mountain lions, deer and other wildlife -- leaving it for future generations of horse riders, hikers and campers.
"She had a sense of pride and gratitude towards her aunt," her son said. "I never heard an unkind word spoken about her. She supported the decision."
Coe Verbica was born in 1935 in San Jose. She graduated in 1952 from James Lick High School, where she was class treasurer. After graduating from Stanford in 1956, she was admitted to Stanford Law School, where she was one of two women in her class but then suffered serious injuries in a car accident and was unable to finish her studies.
Not long after, she moved to Boston, worked for a Harvard economics professor, then returned to the Bay Area in 1959 and married Robert Verbica. She and her husband lived much of their lives on roughly 4,000 acres of ranchlands the family maintained north of Henry W. Coe State Park.
After her parents died in the late 1980s, the family was forced to sell the ranch to pay estate taxes. A few years later, it was acquired by the Hewlett and Packard families and added to their 28,000-acre San Felipe Ranch, a property the families first began assembling in 1954. Today, it stretches 10 miles from Coe Park nearly to Joseph Grant County Park.
"As a kid, I remember interacting with Mr. Packard and Mr. Hewlett," said Pearle Salters, Coe Verbica's daughter. "They were wonderful people and very approachable. We used to go to their company picnics on the ranch. They were really nice."
All of the Hewlett and Packard lands, including the former Coe family ranch, will remain undeveloped. The nine Hewlett and Packard children donated development rights in 2008 to the Nature Conservancy, a gift valued at the time at $40 million.
Throughout her life, Coe Verbica was a staunch Republican, active in her churches, including St. Philips and St. Francis episcopal churches, as well as Los Gatos Christian Church. In 2009, she moved to a retirement community in Tahequah, Okla., to be close to her daughter.
"She had a winsome smile," Salters said. "She was always very hospitable and warm. Everybody loved her."
Paul Rogers covers resources and environmental issues. Contact him at 408-920-5045. Follow him at Twitter.com/PaulRogersSJMN.
Born: March 3, 1935, San Jose
Died: March 31, 2013, Tahequah, Okla.
Survived by: Daughter Pearle Salters, of Eufala Okla., and son Peter Verbica, of Santa Cruz, and eight grandchildren.
Services: A memorial service will be held at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Venture Church at 16845 Hicks Road, Los Gatos. Memorial donations, in lieu of flowers, should be directed to Henry Coe State Park's Pine Ridge Association (www.coepark.org or 408-779-2728, www.coepark.net) or Africa Inland Mission USA (1-800-254-0010, www.aimint.org/usa/).