Remembering Sonomans we lost in 2019
Sonoma Valley lost several notable longtime residents in 2019. Based on comments and remembrances received from readers, we're looking back, chronologically, at the passing of a few.
When he died Feb. 25 at age 79, Gerald Marino was widely regarded as one of Sonoma's all-time community characters. He was known as “Chicken Jerry” for a quirky, high-profile campaign in the early 2000s to keep a chicken population in the Plaza and at his car wash. The story even made the Wall Street Journal, which, in 2002, featured the headline, “In Sonoma, Calif., A Chicken Fight for Town's Soul.” In Sonoma, he was also involved with Marino Shoe Store, a wholesale beer and wine distributor, real estate investments – the McDonald's location on Sonoma Highway was once family property – and as owner of that car wash on West Napa Street, since even before there were chickens there. “Jerry was always interested in city politics,” read his obituary in the Index-Tribune, “much to the sometimes chagrin of city officials.”
Ralph Metzner died of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis March 14 at age 82. The 1960s were just beginning when three professors published “The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead.” Its authors were three Harvard colleagues – Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert and Metzner – who were researching LSD, psilocybin and other chemicals and their potential for therapeutic use. Unlike his co-authors, Metzner kept a relatively low profile throughout his life, focusing on a more practical approach to consciousness expansion, keeping busy in private practice as a psychotherapist, teaching at the California Institute of Integral Studies, traveling and writing. He also took up jazz piano and his musical enthusiasm led him to record and release a CD, “Bardo Blues,” in 2006.
Howard Costello died March 17 at the Oregon home of his son, Don, at age 96. Costello taught math at Sonoma Valley High School for 32 years. He grew up in Rochester and when WWII started, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps, which sent him to weather-forecaster school. After the war, he enrolled at Berkeley. An accomplished high school and junior college athlete, Costello played one season of football at Cal and one season as an outfielder for the Cal baseball team. His teammate that season was All-American Jackie Jensen. In 1950, he moved to Sonoma and was hired at SVHS to teach math, coach three sports and drive the school bus. He retired from teaching in 1982.
Lilla Gilbrech Weinberger, Sonoma bookstore owner, political activist and organizer, died March 24 following a fall down a flight of stairs. She was 77. After studying politics at UC Berkeley, Weinbeger worked for Organizing for Action as California state director; she was a regional field director for the Ed Markey for U.S. Senate campaign; and the Maryland field director for the Obama for America campaign. Earlier in her career she worked at the Library of Congress, wrote speeches for officials and conducted research for President Lyndon Johnson's landmark education legislation. She also studied photography and became involved in the women's movement via the Feminist Studio Workshop in Los Angeles. Later in her career, she served as the executive director of the National Foster Youth.
Frank LaHaye, co-founder of Sonoma's LaHaye Art Centre, died at his home in Aptos on April 21. He was 90. LaHaye left behind the legacy of his public art center on East Napa Street, carved from the bones of the former metal foundry his father, Frank LaHaye Sr. founded. When the foundry was relocated to Southern California in 1976, LaHaye and his wife Sally redeveloped the site. Last year, the center celebrated its 40th anniversary. The building is home to Café LaHaye, a funky warren of artists' studios, the Arts Guild gallery, the Alley Gallery, and apartments attached to a “green roof.” Born in San Francisco in 1929, LaHaye spent summers in Sonoma until 1937, when he and his family moved to the Valley full time. LaHaye graduated from Sonoma Valley High School in 1947, and went on to earn a degree in metallurgic engineering from Stanford University in 1954. After college, he went to work for McCormick Selph, inventing parts that are still widely used in the aerospace industry.
Pastor Richard Paul Gantenbein passed away suddenly at home on April 27. Born in Portland, Oregon, he graduated from Fuller Theological Seminary before earning a Doctor of Ministry degree from San Francisco Theological Seminary. He was pastor of the Granada Hills Presbyterian before becoming the pastor of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in 1982.