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Basking in the ‘light’ of Sonoma’s Diane Lunny

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It was tradition for Diane Lunny to cook a hearty Sunday night dinner for her family and any friends that happened to stop by her welcoming Sonoma home.

She sent the perfect birthday card – cards for pretty much any occasion, in fact – to everyone she knew, totally more than 500 dropped in the mailbox every year. Diane delighted in giving her grandchildren storybooks, always signing the inside, and she loved her garden, where she grew oodles of her favorite sunflowers and kept 15 birdfeeders full.

And Diane and her family always attended the Hospice by the Bay Lights of Remembrance tree lighting ceremony – ever since 1997, the year their daughter Jaime died in a car accident when she was only 20 years old.

This Sunday evening at 6 pm. the Lunny family will gather again on the Plaza for the tree lighting ceremony, their lives forever changed since Diane lost her battle with pancreatic cancer last August. The Lunnys were chosen to light this year’s tree in memory of Diane and of all those who have passed away this year in the Valley of the Moon.

“It’s an honor,” said Diane’s daughter Janel Owen. “This event was very important to my mom, she never missed it. It’s our family’s thing to do. My kids always love holding the candles.”

This will be a sentimental holiday season for Joe Lunny, who was married to Diane for 44 years, and their children Janel, Joe and Jared and their spouses, and their four grandkids, Taylor, Spencer, Joe and Emma. Diane was the center of their universe and nothing seems quite the same. “She was good at running a village,” Jared said.

Joe met Diane when they were not long out of high school and Diane was finishing up her training to become a dental assistant. She was born in San Francisco and her family moved to Marin when she was a young girl, graduating from Drake High School and the College of Marin. The couple lived first on Joe’s family’s dairy in Inverness, moving briefly to Novato and building their forever home in Sonoma in 1980.

Joe and Diane’s lives were always focused on their children first, with Joe coaching many of their teams in football, softball, baseball and volleyball. Diane never missed a game and was a born cheerleader. She volunteered for all their activities, from hot dog lunch at St. Francis School to the Booster Club at Sonoma Valley High School. Even after their kids were grown, Joe continued to coach and Diane could be found running the Babe Ruth Snack Shack or selling spirit wear. “You could never open the rear of Mom’s car and not find a stadium seat,” Janel said.

Diane also worked as a classroom assistant for many years, helping kids in almost every school in the Valley. She had many friends and was always ready to lend a hand. Perhaps the greatest evidence of the many lives she enhanced was demonstrated at her funeral mass and the following celebration of life at Roche Winery on Bonness Road that was attended by almost 600 people.

Family and friends made pasta and barbequed 350 chicken halves and there were folding tables overflowing with donated side dishes, enough to feed everyone and donate the extra to a homeless shelter. People brought bottles of wine to share, with most every winery in Sonoma represented on the labels.

“At one time or another she knew almost every kid in town and they all came out to honor her,” Jared said.

“Our door was always open,” Janel said.

“She was strong. Loving. A wonderful wife and a great mom,” Joe said. He is clearly lost without her.

Diane loved the outdoors. “She had a wealth of knowledge about nature,” Jared said, with Janel remembering when their mom would have them hang pinecones slathered with peanut butter around the garden to feed the birds. Diane was also an expert mushroom hunter, a skill she learned while visiting her grandparents in Montana when she was growing up.

Diane first started not feeling well when she and Joe went to the San Francisco Giants spring training in March 2017. By summer she had undergone chemotherapy, but was thrilled to be able to go on a preplanned houseboat vacation with her family in Trinity, a place they spent many summer vacations when her kids were growing up.

The family was so relieved when Hospice by the Bay began their services. “We didn’t know before all that they do. Having them didn’t mean the end, it meant we had extra help. They made sure mom was always comfortable and they were all so caring,” Janel said.

“It really opened our eyes to what’s included in their care and it made life much easier.”

The Lunnys will have many memories to warm them at the tree lighting ceremony. And the glow of the tree’s many lights will shine through the darkness throughout the holiday season – a reminder of Diane Lunny and everyone Sonoma has loved and lost.

The Lights of Remembrance tree lighting ceremony is Sunday, Dec 2 at 6 p.m. on the Plaza. To sponsor a tribute light in honor of a loved one call 415-526-5500 or download the donation form at hospicebythebay.org.

Carole Kelleher can be reached cmkvom@gmail.com.