Foundation History

The story of the Sonora Area Foundation began with generous gifts from two members of a long-established Tuolumne County family – Irving Symons and his sister, Elaine Symons Baker.

Mr. Symons and his sister were both born and raised in Tuolumne County and shared a deep affection for this area and its history. Their family’s Tuolumne County roots date back to the 1850s, when members of the Symons family first immigrated to this area from Cornwall, England and Ireland.

Elaine and Irving, both successful individuals, felt a strong desire to share with their community, and to help build for its future. Together, they established the Community Foundation that would improve the quality of life here for many years to come – and provide a way for others to do the same.

Mr. Irving Symons
Mr. Irving Symons
Elaine Symons Baker
Elaine Symons Baker

A generous bequest from Elaine’s estate provided the Foundation with a solid base from which to grow. That initial gift continues to pay for the Foundation’s operating costs and a large portion of its grant awards. Irving’s estate established the Irving J. Symons Foundation for Tuolumne County as a Supporting Organization to Sonora Area Foundation.

Highlights of Irving’s life include:

  • 1898 — Hales and Symons founded in Sonora by his father as a freight company and feed store, which expanded into mining supplies, fuel, ice and eventually lumber.
  • 1924 — At age 16, Irving graduates from Sonora High School.
  • 1929 — Irving joins the Sonora Lions Club, beginning more that 75 years of active membership.
  • 1943 – 1945 — Served in Okinawa, Japan as an officer in the U.S. Navy.  Returns after his father’s death to take over as President of Hales and Symons.
  • 1955 — Irving named director of California State Chamber of Commerce.
  • 1973 — Appointed by Governor Ronald Reagan to the State Board of Transportation.
  • 1987 — After two decades of advocacy, Irving joins in dedicating the new Highway 108 Sonora Bypass.
  • 1990 — Irving creates the Sonora Area Foundation.
  • 1997 — Hales and Symons sold to JS West & Companies.
  • December 26, 2004 — Irving, age 97 dies at his home with his wife, Jane and many family members at his side.

As President of Hales and Symons, Mr. Symons guided the company’s day-to-day operations for more than 40 years.

The Sonora Area Foundation continues to thrive, and has attracted hundreds of additional donors who have invested in our community’s future. Their generosity allows the Foundation to continue to return substantial gifts to the community in grants and scholarships.