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My Uncle Henri loved Sonoma

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Many Sonoma residents have heard of the Maysonnave House, located on First Street East directly south of Depot Park. It is now the home of the Sonoma League for Historic Preservation. In November, the Index-Tribune carried a story about plans to turn the small cottage behind the house into a vacation rental. Part of this property is also now used for bocce ball and petanque courts.

What many folks may not know is that Henri also wanted the old cottage to become a vacation rental. He told me that he felt it was a perfect location from which visitors could enjoy the community he loved. He died before that dream became fully realized.

The main house was the home of Henri’s parents, Fabien and Marguerite Maysonnave. Henri continued to live in his family home until his death in 1989.

Long before Henri bequeathed his property to the City of Sonoma and before he became the city’s second honorary Alcalde in 1977, he was my honorary uncle. In fact, I never knew him as anything but “Uncle Henri” for my entire life.

To most people who knew him, Henri was the generous and energetic volunteer for many civic and community organizations, with a record of service that went on for decades and included Hanna Boys Center, the Sonoma Valley Chamber of Commerce, the Sonoma Parks and Recreation Commission, the Sonoma Community Center, the Valley of the Moon Vintage Festival Association, and many more. He was the first Sonoman named to the Hanna Boys Center board when it moved to the Valley from Menlo Park 63 years ago.

But to me, he was the uncle who always remembered my birthday, showed up at my little league baseball games and was a special member of our family when we celebrated Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.

He’s the guy who gave me a real bunny one Easter when I was about 6-years-old. On another holiday a few years later, he gave me two baby chicks. I’m pretty sure my Mom didn’t appreciate those kinds of gifts, but to me they were special, especially because they came from Uncle Henri.

Although full of energy as an adult, he was stricken with a severe respiratory illness as a youngster and had to spend a long time in the French Hospital in San Francisco. This confirmed in him a belief that one’s health is a great gift that should be guarded with care. He would always remind me to take good care of myself, adding, “If you have your health, you will be OK. If you’re not in good health, nothing else matters.”

He was a captivating storyteller and often reminisced about old Sonoma, its history and families. No community could have had a better goodwill ambassador. When he succeeded August Pinelli as Sonoma Alcalde, he began his acceptance speech by saying, “Sonoma is my love and my life.”

It seemed he knew everyone in town. But he was also a friend to many prominent folks who visited our valley, including sports figures like Casey Stengel, Mel Ott, Lefty O’Doul and George Halas.

It is primarily from Uncle Henri that I developed my own passion and love for Sonoma.

Knowing Henri as I did, I believe he is happy that his family home has been used to help local residents and visitors appreciate our rich history, and that the cottage will allow overnight visitors to appreciate Sonoma even more.