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Remembering Sonomans we lost in 2019

Others who passed included

Anna Byerly

Suzanne Duran

Carmillo Hermosillo

Mark Hubenette

Cynthia Horstman

Helen Millerick Larson

William Murray

Kevin O'Neill

Charles Price

And too many others to list…

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.

Jerry Marino

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

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

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 Weinberger

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

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.

Richard Gantenbein

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.

Others who passed included

Anna Byerly

Suzanne Duran

Carmillo Hermosillo

Mark Hubenette

Cynthia Horstman

Helen Millerick Larson

William Murray

Kevin O'Neill

Charles Price

And too many others to list…

Gantenbein served on the Sonoma Valley Community Health Center Board of Directors, the Valley of the Moon Boys and Girls Club Board of Directors, and the original Sonoma Valley Hospital siting committee. He also participated in recovery programs and the Mentoring Alliance. His outreach extended to missions in Romania and El Salvador. He was also an avid cyclist.

Jerry Seltzer

Jerry Seltzer died after a long battle with pulmonary fibrosis on July 1 at age 87. Seltzer lived a variety of lives, as owner of a roller derby league, co-founder of BASS Tickets, a prolific philanthropist and the co-founder of the Sonoma International Film Festival. Friends remember him as fearless in his pursuits, with a wicked sense of humor and a brilliance for big ideas.

Working with partner Harold Silen, he built Bay Area Seating Service, which became better known as BASS Tickets, a company that revolutionized how America bought tickets to concerts and sporting events. Seltzer later served as vice president of Ticketmaster, helping it grow into the country's largest ticketing agency. When he retired from Ticketmaster in 1993, he moved to Sonoma. He and friend Carolyn Stolman launched what would become the Sonoma International Film Festival in 1997.

Ted Eliot

Ted Eliot died Aug. 9 from complications of a heart condition at age 91. Eliot and his late wife Pat moved to Sonoma in 1988. They spent their golden years in the Sonoma Valley passionately working to protect the natural world, expand local trails and protect open space. Eliot was part of the prominent Boston Eliot family, which included several college presidents and one Nobel Prize winner. He received an undergraduate and a graduate degree from Harvard University and was a Foreign Service Officer for 30 years, serving in Sri Lanka, Germany, the Soviet Union, Iran and, from 1973 to 1978, he served as the United States Ambassador to Afghanistan.

In Sonoma, Eliot was both an avid conservationist and a passionate bird watcher. In 2017, Ted and Pat Eliot were named Sonoma's Alcalde and Alcaldesa.

Tim Gray

Timothy Gray died Aug. 29 at the age of 57 after a brief but intense battle with depression and anxiety. He moved to Sonoma in 1969 when his father, Bill, was hired as principal of Sonoma Valley High School. Gray himself graduated from SVHS in 1980 and, after graduating from San Diego State University, he married his high school sweetheart, Andrea Smith. They lived briefly in Texas (where Gray earned a master's in petroleum geology) before returning to Sonoma. Together they ran Gray Oil & Land and a construction company, Gray Company Inc. In October of 2017, Gray and several friends and neighbors banded together to lead an offensive against the fires to save Mission Highlands and Boyes Hot Springs, using his beloved vintage fire truck.

Frances Reed

Glen Ellen's first postmaster died Sept. 4. She was 99. Frances Reed was born in San Francisco to French- American parents and grew up speaking only French. She moved to Sonoma in her youth and attended Sonoma Valley High School. In 1962, residents of Glen Ellen came together to dedicate a new U.S. post office and Reed presented to the town what the Index-Tribune described as its “new, convenient, well-lighted, cooled, heated, spacious 1,000- square-foot” post office on Arnold Drive.

One year later, Glen Ellen cheered Reed for being awarded a promotion: the government had appointed her the town's permanent postmaster and the following spring, Reed received her commission signed by President John F. Kennedy.

She later became one of Sonoma County's few women real estate agents.

Maria Biasetto

Maria Biasetto died at her home Oct. 13, after a battle with cancer. She was 93. Born in Italy, she met an American soldier toward the end of World War II and came to the states with her new husband. The marriage didn't last, and she moved to San Francisco where she worked in the real estate business and completed a college education. The San Francisco Call Bulletin published two stories about her, describing her as a remarkable immigrant woman. Biasetto moved to Sonoma in the 1980s, where she was actively involved with the Sonoma Valley Hospital, the Sonoma Ecology Center, Wildlife Fawn Rescue, the Wildlife Federation, Nature Conservancy, the Audubon Society and others.

She was also an active member of the Sonoma League for Historic Preservation. She served on the Sonoma Sister Cities board and was a longtime supporter of Pets Lifeline.

Email Lorna at lorna.sheridan@sonomanews.com.

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