Community Portrait: Like his father and granddad, Vitas likes Auburn just fine

By: Story and photo Michael Kirby
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For over 120 years members of Fred Vitas’ family have lived in the Auburn area. That goes back a long way, and Vitas is part of the third generation to carry on his family’s name around here. Vitas’ grandfather, Sam Vitas, settled in the Ophir area in 1891 after coming to California from Yugoslavia via Canada. Think about it, just 45 years after the infamous Donner Party made their ill-fated journey to California. Just 42 years after the Gold Rush brought settlers from all over the world to California to seek their fortunes, and long before the car was invented, Vitas’ grandfather was living and working in the Auburn area. He was a caretaker for the Gridley Ranch in Ophir and was a ditch tender for the Nevada Irrigation District. Vitas knows so much about Auburn it seems he could talk for hours about the town and its people, past and present. He speaks of longtime Auburn families, and long-gone stores and businesses and where they were located. He has stories about growing up in a much smaller Auburn. Vitas graduated from Placer High School in 1967 following his father Fred H. Vitas who was also a Placer graduate. There is no question that this man has truly enjoyed living in Auburn, respects his town and gives back to his community. There was a time when Vitas thought like many young people just out of high school or college. They can’t wait to get out of Auburn to pursue a life elsewhere, somewhere more exciting. Vitas had a big touch of wanderlust and did take several sojourns from Auburn before he figured out that Auburn is a great place to live. In August 1970 during a summer break from college, Vitas and his good friend Monte Ross set off across the United States on one 350 Honda Scrambler motorcycle. This was one year after the release of “Easy Rider,” the movie about a motorcycle road trip through the south by two longhaired, free spirited young men. “We went through 36 states and traveled 10,000 miles in 30 days,” Vitas said. This was the first of a couple of road trips Vitas and Ross took during their college years. Vitas also lived in North Lake Tahoe for a few years, living the dream of a young man in a resort town. “I skied, I backpacked, just had a great time,” he said. Still without a firm plan for the future, Vitas was talked into applying for a job in the insurance business on a visit back in Auburn, a scenario he never pictured himself in. He got the job but he turned it down for more great life in Tahoe and his desire of becoming either a race care driver, photographer or singer, never picturing himself in a suit-and-tie position. Rethinking his career options and on the advice of another insurance agent, Vitas re-interviewed and took a job with Cal Farm Insurance in Newcastle in 1976. “Cal Farm was the largest insurer of ranches and agriculture in California,” Vitas said. “That’s where I got my start in insurance.” In 1986 Vitas opened Vitas Insurance Agency on Maple Street, later moving to larger facilities on Nevada Street in 1993 and again to still larger facilities in 2003 at his current location in the Court View Office Plaza on Auburn Folsom Road. Vitas Insurance is a full-service insurance agency supplying residents with health, life, commercial, personal and farm insurance. “Looking back, it’s been a phenomenal career, making insurance recommendations and having a customer’s trust. That’s the most wonderful thing in the world,” he said. Vitas still does quite a bit of traveling, and did end up driving a racecar. He’s been a member of the Auburn Gold Country Rotary since 1991, spent six years on the Auburn Chamber of Commerce Board, six years on the Auburn Faith Foundation Board, is currently a Boys and Girls Club committee member and an Auburn Planning Commissioner. Vitas lives in Auburn and has been married to wife Patti for 30 years.