In continuing with the story of the life and times of the former Sacramento disco king Paul Dale Roberts, following the death of disco, Roberts evolved into a new persona.
Far from his days when his dancing attracted crowds at local clubs and he traveled around in Rolls Royces with an entourage, Roberts is now recognized as one the nation’s leading paranormal investigators.
But more than a basic paranormal investigator, he became a Fortean investigator, which is a person who investigates all things paranormal, from ghosts to UFOs to cryptids.
Before Roberts explained how he became a paranormal investigator, he noted that he receives many paranormal hotline calls from people in the Pocket area.”
“There are paranormal books that make claim that many new homes in the Pocket area became haunted due to the fact that these homes were built over Portuguese cemeteries,” Roberts said.
Although, with research, one can easily discover that the majority Portuguese pioneers of the Riverside-Pocket area were interred in the old St. Joseph’s Cemetery at 2615 21st St., it is likely that these books are instead referring to old Indian burial grounds.
In speaking about this delicate topic, Pocket resident Dolores Greenslate, who serves as the historian of the Portuguese Historical and Cultural Society, said, “There was no Portuguese cemetery in Sacramento. We had a number of (Indian burial grounds) in the Pocket and Riverside area. Two of them that I know of are one on the Manuel Alvernaz ranch and then on the neighboring King Brown property, where his (two-story) home was located (to the immediate north of the Alvernaz ranch) on a mound. The mound was an Indian burial ground. That’s the one when they constructed (Interstate) 5 and they hit this mound, they had to tear down the old house – it was the old Brown house – and when they did, bones went flying all over the place. They didn’t even bother asking anyone what that was, and if they had, most of us could have told them that that was an Indian burial ground. Anyway, they brought the whole Interstate 5 (project) to a halt until they figured out what they were going to do.”
After being asked the golden question of how he became a paranormal investigator, Roberts chuckled, then said, “Oh, yes, where do I begin? When I was a child, I lived in a haunted house on Effy Street in Fresno. I heard a young woman call my (middle) name and she was trying to beckon me into the orange grove. She was saying, ‘Dale, come here, Dale come here.’ I saw flying skulls in my bedroom. I was violently shoved into a heater. My mother heard me coughing one night and she came into my room and looked possessed and gave me a teaspoon of poison by accident. I vomited the poison up. She was horrified and we moved out of this home. After moving out of this home, things got better and I remember meeting (William Boyd, who played) Hopalong Cassidy at a parade in Fresno and my life seemed normal again. I learned later in life that children have psychic abilities up to the age of 8, and then most lose those abilities. (That is) why you hear about children having imaginary friends. I was still haunted about that house on Effy Street, so I started reading every book I could get my hands on in regard to the paranormal. I was reading Brad Steiger books, ‘Chariot of the Gods’ by Erich von Daniken, etc.
“In 1973, I went into the Army and became a military cop with the Criminal Investigation Division, Drug Suppression Team. This is where I learned to be an investigator. I was also a private investigator with my own company, called Silhouette Enterprises. I was not very successful as a private investigator and I allowed that to phase out in my life.”
Roberts said that his curiosity about the paranormal continued through his disco years, and that he became interested in UFOS during his latter Army years.
“I was stationed in Seoul, Korea – Yongsan Barracks – Photo Interpretation Center – Korea,” Roberts said. “At PIC-K, I worked with image interpreters and we studied aerial reconnaissance photos of North Korea and Red China. On one particular day, six photos came in. The photos were of a variety of UFOs taken by reconnaissance satellites in outer space. On the back of all the photos, there were two words: ‘intelligent movement.’ Each photo represented a video that went with each photo. I assigned a number to each photo and sent the photos up the line to the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) and they eventually went to the CIA, and I heard nothing more about it. Military Intelligence honed my skills as a future paranormal investigator and I didn’t know in 1981 that I would ever became a paranormal investigator, but everything was leading me down a path toward this career. Later, I became an OPFOR (opposing forces) Army instructor teaching the Soviet Threat, which taught me the ability to lead a large group of people. This would be needed to lead my large group of HPI (formerly Haunted and Paranormal Investigations/now Hegelianism Paranormal Intelligence) investigators.”
Roberts said that he later began dating a ghost hunter and that since he was already a writer in the comic book industry and knew a lot about the paranormal, she invited him on an HPI ghost hunt.
With his introduction to HPI, Roberts met HPI’s then-owner Shannon McCabe, who took an interest in Roberts’ experience as a writer.
In speaking about that time in his life, Roberts said, “(After) I told Shannon McCabe that I was a freelance journalist, she Googled me on her laptop, saw the many comic book articles I wrote, grabbed my arm and said, ‘I love the press.’ Shannon showed me how to use the equipment and I wrote my first HPI paranormal article that was published in two British magazines and (on) 14 ghost (related) Web sites.
“Shannon was so pleased at the results, she sent me an e-mail and cc’d her staff. She told me that I was going to be HPI’s ‘ghost writer,’ core group member, and she would teach me how to ghost hunt. I replied to Shannon that I would love to join them on a few occasions here and there, but I was too busy with the comic book industry. Shannon sent me a private message and explained to me that right now the paranormal is hot and I should allow my comic book industry partner and vice president, Richard Vasseur, (to) handle the business for a couple of months. Well, Richard has been running my comic book Web site, (www.jazmaonline.com) for eight years now, and now I am the owner of HPI International and still investigating, writing paranormal articles and writing books.”
In continuing with the story of the life and times of the former Sacramento disco king Paul Dale Roberts, following the death of disco, Roberts evolved into a new persona.
As presented in the previous article of this series, Mitch Agruss – better known in East Sacramento and throughout the valley as Cap’n Mitch – had a lengthy career in live theater long before he donned his seaman’s cap for Sacramento area television audiences.
The former children’s cartoon host established himself in the theatrical world, as he performed on and off-Broadway.
These experiences not only gave him much joy in his life, but also allowed him to become a man who could, if he so desired, perform exercises in legitimate name dropping.
And in creating a short list of such famous people, Agruss spoke about several of these related memories.
One of Agruss’s earlier theatrical memories was touring around the nation with (an affiliate of) the United Service Organizations camp shows shortly after World War II.
In recalling that time of his life, Agruss said, “We were gone for several months. We went to every state in the country. We visited veterans’ hospitals and we set up rudimentary sets and we did the play (“John Loves Mary”). My roommate was a person by the name of ‘Howie’ Morse (1919-2005). Howard Morris later became one of the Sid Caesar’s ‘Your Show of Shows’ foursome. (It was an) early television show with Carl Reiner. Howie went on and he was a director and actor in Hollywood and he was also famous (as) the crazy, little hillbilly, Ernest T. Bass, in (The) Andy Griffith (Show). (The Morrises) were our closest friends for many years. They raised puppies – he and his wife – in New York. We had puppies from them and we brought one of our puppies all the way out here from there, and we lived next to each other. We were very close friends. I would hang around at the rehearsals for ‘Your Show of Shows,’ too, which was fun. That was the time of Mel Brooks and all those people, (playwright and screenwriter) Neil Simon. So, you’ll notice that I was always on the fringes. I wasn’t at the heart, core of these things.”
“(Film actor and live theater producer) John Houseman (1902-1988) was an interesting character in himself, because he was Orson Welles’ (1915-1985) partner in the Mercury Theatre during the 1930s, with the Federal (Theatre) Project. He was the director (of a production of Shakespeare’s) ‘King Lear,’ so that’s how I met him. A few years later (in 1956), when he became artistic director for the newly built American Shakespeare Festival Theatre and Academy in Stratford, Conn., he hired an associate director who was a friend of mine who I was working with. So, I just became a member of that very distinguished company.”
As mentioned in the previous article of this series, Agruss performed in a Shakespearean play with Katharine Hepburn (1907-2003).
And in discussing another moment with Hepburn, Agruss said, “One of my major memories in my life is a whole hour of time with just Katharine Hepburn, my friend, (theatrical and television director) Jack Landau (1924-1966), and myself. She was at Stratford doing two plays there in the summer of 1960. The highlight was her secretary came in and interrupted at a point and said, ‘Miss Hepburn, Spence is on the phone.’ So, Spencer Tracy was calling and I was sitting in that room and I heard it.”
In telling about his interaction with Harpo Marx (1888-1964), Agruss said, “As members of the theater staff, we had work to do, and for some silly reason, Harpo wanted to have his celebrated horn secured to his dressing room table by lock and chain. And he wanted me to take responsibility for its safety. I had the key. I thought I had the only key until that awful moment when it was half-hour and I went to his dressing room to find him staring bug-eyed at an opened lock and a dangling chain, but no horn. My God, I was petrified.”
After some silence, Marx made an odd expression, laughed, slapped Agruss’s back, held up the key, pulled the horn out from under the table and said, ‘Gotcha!’”
Agruss said that as an 18-year-old kid, he was “ready to melt into a pool of fear.”
Nancy (Davis) Reagan
Long before she became an East Sacramento resident or the nation’s first lady, Agruss kissed Nancy Davis, who would, of course, marry future California Gov. and U.S. President Ronald Reagan.
In telling that story, Agruss said, “I played the role of Warren Cramer (in the production of ‘The Late Christopher Bean’). (Cramer) indeed kisses the character of Susan Haggett, whom Miss Davis portrayed in this play, and that, my friends, is all I remember about the whole darn thing. I never saw her after that, nor did I ever try to contact her when she was here in Sacramento. Don’t know why. Her children probably watched my TV show.”
And on the topic of his involvement in television, Agruss described his pioneering moments in that medium.
In speaking about the earliest of those moments, he said, “I got a job doing a show in (Cambridge, Mass.) – a closed circuit television show, especially for business magnates to see the value of television as an advertising medium. In other words, they were not sure about it in those days. That was in the fall of 1947. So, we rehearsed (about a 20-minute) small play. We were set up in a classroom with (the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and they telecasted across the (Charles) River to a big hotel in downtown Boston, where the bigwigs were there. It was a small, little drama with commercials built in to try to show corporate America that television was worth advertising on. And that’s how early it was that we were involved with (television).”
The majority of Agruss’s early television work, however, occurred from 1950 to about 1957. And at that same time, he continued with his stage work, which included his appearances in two Broadway plays.
Agruss noted that 1950s television actors in New York generally had very little time to rehearse and perform their parts.
“In the heyday of live, New York television programming in the 1950s, you only had a week to do a show at the most,” Agruss said. “You had to rehearse a show and put it on and when you did it, that was it. And it went nationwide. Nowadays when you talk to theater people, actors, they say, ‘How the heck did you do that? How can you do such a complicated thing in less than a week’s time? It was all live, and the only reason that we had the recordings is that they did kinescope recordings, which were taken off of photographic television sets. The networks save those in large measure, many of which are in the film and television archives, both in New York and Los Angeles.”
In continuing the story of his involvement in early television in a chronological fashion, Agruss began sharing details about his first experience as a children’s cartoon host.
St. Mary’s Cemetery, the historic cemetery featured in the last edition of this publication, is the resting place of many notable people.
Among those interred on the grounds of this cemetery, which is located at 6700 21st Ave., at the 65th Street Expressway, are the Sacramento Solons baseball greats Tony Freitas and Joe Marty.
The 5-foot, 8-inch-tall, left-handed pitcher Antonio “Tony” Freitas, Jr. (1908-1994) was undoubtedly one of the most renowned Sacramento Solons players.
His clutch performances in the Solons’ drive to winning their only pennant in 1942 were sufficient enough to earn him legendary status in the capital city.
Freitas made his professional baseball debut in 1928 with the Class D Phoenix Senators in the Arizona State League.
During the 1929 season, Freitas became a member of the Sacramento Senators, the predecessor of the Solons.
While playing for two major league teams during the 1930s, Freitas compiled a won-loss record of 25-33.
He is recognized as the all-time winningest left-handed pitcher in minor league history.
Freitas, who won at least 20 games in nine different seasons, was inducted into the Pacific Coast League Hall of Fame and the Sacramento Athletic Hall of Fame, was named a member of the Pacific Coast League All-Century Team and was selected by the Society of American Baseball Research as the all-time best minor league pitcher.
Freitas returned to Sacramento and worked as a non-playing manager for the Solons in 1954 and 1955. He compiled a 282-win and 344-loss managerial record in 627 games.
A Sacramento native and a product of Christian Brothers High School’s sports program during the late 1920s and early 1930s, Marty was born Joseph Anton Marty on Sept. 1, 1913. He received a three-sport scholarship in baseball, football and basketball from St. Mary’s College of California, where he studied and played sports in 1932 and 1933.
In 1934, the San Francisco Seals, a Double-A minor league baseball team of the Pacific Coast League, acquired the rights to the then-20-year-old Marty.
Marty’s third season with the Seals was so successful that he attracted the attention of major league teams through such statistics as a league best .359 batting average, 215 hits and 17 home runs.
His five seasons in the majors included World Series appearances, one of which occurred in an Oct. 8, 1938 game, in which he became the first Sacramento native to hit a home run in a World Series game.
Marty also enjoyed success as a Solons player for seven seasons, including the 1950 season when he held the role of player-manager.
As a businessman, Marty, who passed away on Oct. 4, 1984, operated his bar, Joe Marty’s, at 15th Street and Broadway in Land Park.
Another notable former athlete to be interred at St. Mary’s was Max Baer (1909-1959).
Born Maximillian Adelbert Baer, the Ancil Hoffman-managed Baer, who fought in 84 professional fights, was not only a capital city boxing legend, but he was also inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1968, the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1984 and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1995.
Baer, who first trained in a gym on his father’s ranch, fought his first professional match at the Oak Park Arena in Stockton on May 16, 1929, when he knocked out Chief Caribou in the second round.
Although Baer, who was known for his charismatic personality and hard-hitting punches, had many great moments in his boxing career, his greatest achievement came on June 14, 1934, when he knocked out Primo Carnera at Madison Square Garden in New York to become the heavyweight champion of the world.
One of the fights that Baer is most known for is his June 13, 1935, 15-round defeat against James J. Braddock. The match is celebrated in the 2005 film, “Cinderella Man.”
More than a decade following his 1941 retirement from professional boxing, Baer described his Jack Dempsey-like approach to the sport during a Sacramento boxing party held at Christian Brothers High School.
Baer was quoted in The Sacramento Bee as telling attendees of the event that his favorite target was an opponent’s chin.
“Boxers are always looking for an advantage and try to slip over a quick punch in the early rounds,” Baer said. “When a boxer is cold during the first or second rounds, a punch to the jaw will do a lot of damage.”
Earl D. Desmond
A Sacramento native, Desmond, who was born on Aug. 26, 1895, attended Christian Brothers and Sacramento high schools.
While attending Santa Clara University, Desmond left the school to join the Navy during World War I.
Following the war, he worked as an agent for the Florin Fruit Exchange in the old town of Florin, and later operated a 2,000-acre ranch eight miles south of the town of Franklin.
Desmond, who married Sacramento native Edna Nicolaus in 1920, attended and graduated from the McGeorge College of Law (later renamed McGeorge School of Law). He was admitted to the bar in 1931.
Eventually, Desmond became the senior member of the law firm, Desmond, Miller and Artz.
He was elected to the California Assembly in 1934 to represent the 9th district.
A decade later, he was elected to the Senate. He was reelected in 1948, 1952 and 1956.
He also served as chairman of an interim committee on water projects. The committee’s activities included taking a role in the controversial north-south water issue.
Desmond, who many people have referred to as the “Father of Sac State,” authored the successful bill to bring a four-year college to the capital city.
Gov. Earl Warren signed this bill – Senate Bill 1221 – on July 1, 1947.
He was also involved in the efforts to relocate the State Fair from a site on Stockton Boulevard to its current Cal Expo site.
Additionally, Desmond served as the secretary of the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors, an elementary school and high school trustee, a member of the Native Sons of the Golden West, Elks Lodge No. 6, the Knights of Columbus and the Loyal Order of Moose.
Desmond, who had six children, was also past state president of the Fraternal Order of Eagles, past president of Sacramento Aerie No. 9 of the Eagles and past commander of American Legion Post No. 61.
Desmond passed away in his home at 5232 Marione Drive in Carmichael on May 25, 1958, a day after he had assisted in a fundraising drive for a proposed Catholic seminary in Galt.
In commenting about Desmond following the senator’s death, Gov. Goodwin J. Knight said, “California has lost one of its outstanding legislators in the passing of Earl D. Desmond. He gave unstintingly of his energies for the benefit of his state and community, and many of our most important statutes and programs today were the product of his sponsorship. He will be sorely missed by his colleagues and constituents alike.”
Although many years have passed since Mitch Agruss served as a popular, local TV cartoon host, he remains a legendary figure to thousands of people.
Mitch, who turned 90 years old last summer, won the hearts of children and others in East Sacramento and throughout the valley with his endearing presentations as Cap’n Mitch, and Cap’n Delta, “Skipper of the Valley Queen.”
In agreeing to be interviewed for this publication about his cartoon host days, Mitch also expressed a desire to speak about the oftentimes lesser known parts of his career.
“The people in this television market remember me for the hosting of the children’s cartoon shows, and that’s it,” Mitch said. “But that was, in Sacramento, from 1961 to 1989. From 1941 to 1961, I was back East. I was graduating from drama school, I was in New York, I was doing Broadway shows, I was doing off-Broadway shows, I was (working) in the live television era.”
While motioning toward a stack of old books sitting on a table in his home, Mitch said, “Those are ‘Theatre World’ books, in which either my name appears or my pictures are in from plays that I’ve done in New York,” Mitch said.
And in pointing out a particular page in one of the books, Mitch added, “That’s the page in which I appear in the same play with Katharine Hepburn.”
In that play, Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” Hebpurn played Beatrice and Mitch appeared in the role of Conrade.
A preview for that play, which was held at the American Shakespeare Festival Theatre in Stratford, Conn. from June 22 through Sept. 8, 1957, included the following words: “Mitchell Agruss appeared on Broadway in ‘King Lear’ with the late Louis Calhern (1895-1956), and in ‘At War with the Army.’ He played in the off-Broadway productions of ‘The Clandestine Marriage,’ ‘The White Devil,’ ‘The Carefree Tree’ and ‘The Duchess of Malfi,’ appeared in all three festival productions last summer, and at the Phoenix (an off-Broadway theater in New York City) this winter.”
In further reminiscing about his early work in live theater, Mitch said, “It’s wonderful to realize that there was a time when I did those things.”
Mitch, who was born in Barnes Hospital (now Barnes-Jewish Hospital) in St. Louis, Mo., was the son of Nat and Rose Agruss. The family’s history in the United States began with Nat and Rose’s parents, who immigrated to America from Eastern Europe in the 1890s.
The Agrusses, Mitch noted, resided in “a very tightknit Jewish community in St. Louis, orthodox at the time.”
Mitch said that his interest in theater began while he was attending Clayton High School in Clayton, Mo.
“I got interested in theater when I was in high school, because I had a very encouraging teacher, mentor (named Blandford Jennings),” Mitch said. “(Jennings) encouraged me and was instrumental in having me go to the State University of Iowa (which is commonly known today as the University of Iowa) between my junior and senior years of high school to a special theater class to see how I took to it. He recommended and referred me – since I didn’t know the first thing about it and where to go to college – to what was then called Carnegie Institute of Technology. It’s now called Carnegie Mellon University. (The institution, which is located in Pittsburgh, Pa.,) has one of the country’s premier drama departments.”
In 1941, following his freshman year at Carnegie Tech, Mitch returned to his St. Louis home, where he received a telephone call from a classmate named Garry Davis.
The classmate – whose father was Meyer Davis (1893-1976), who led one of the nation’s all-time notable dance bands – told him that he was at Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, Pa. and should join him working on the crew building sets and providing other contributions for the summer stock shows.
Mitch told his classmate that he could not afford to engage himself in that project. But Mitch quickly learned that the work was not unpaid labor, and instead would earn him $15 per week.
Mitch was surprised to learn that Bucks County Playhouse was one of the nation’s most celebrated summer straw-hat circuit theaters of that era.
“All the big names worked there,” Mitch recalled. “It was in the middle of Pennsylvania Dutch country, where so many famous theater people have their summer homes. And I was just an 18-year-old kid stepping off a train and walking into the most glamorous world any young theater person could be interested in. The people that were there were all fantastic. All summer long, I met so many people and I became one of the pets of the company. The theater moved because of (World War II) gas rationing into the ballroom of the Belleview-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia, so I spent (the summer of 1942) working there. Each time I got a little bit better parts to play, as well as being a crew person, building sets and running the shows and stuff like that. My best part was in ‘Elizabeth the Queen,’ with a (British actress) named Flora Robson (1902-1984).”
Like many people, Mitch put his dreams on hold to serve his country during the war.
After joining the Army Air Corps and serving in California, he spent the last two-thirds of his three years of military service in Biloxi, Miss.
In 1946, Mitch was honorably discharged from his service and he once again attended Carnegie Tech, where he graduated a year later.
He then returned to Bucks County Playhouse, where he became the assistant stage manager.
Mitch said that it was during that time that he also obtained his Actors’ Equity card and began obtaining better roles in plays.
“I did a myriad of plays with very, very nice parts with more and more important people,” Mitch said. So, my summers were full. I worked with people who are maybe not well known now, but they certainly were well known then. Luise Rainer (1910-present) and Shirley Booth (1898-1992) and Moss Hart (1904-1961) and George Kauffman (1889-1961) and Harpo Marx (1888-1964), and Thornton Wilder (1897-1975) of all people. The summers were full and I was married there, as well, to (Katharine Thompson) who I had met in school.”
In 1948, Mitch and Katharine moved to New York, and Mitch began working in the aforementioned Broadway play, “At War with the Army,” which was later made into a Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis film.
Agruss said that he was offered a role in that film, but added, “Whatever they wanted to pay me, I couldn’t afford to go from New York to California to do it.”
In reminiscing about that time in his life, Agruss said, “It’s amazing for a kid in New York (in) his first year to hit Broadway and be right there in the center of activity at the Booth Theatre, which is like the heartbeat of New York’s Broadway theater scene. That show had moderate success. We were there for about three or four months, then we toured in Chicago and here and there. We did something called the subway circuit in theaters. For months we did this in Brooklyn and the Bronx, in Queens and New Jersey and all around.”
This year’s edition of this social function, which is known as the Old-timers Holiday Luncheon, drew about 60 people, who either were or continue to be connected to some part of the food industry such as employment with a national company or a grocery chain, or working as food brokers.
The Friday, Nov. 8 event began with a mingling hour, in which former food industry professionals, some of whom were once competitors, shared memories about their careers.
One such person was 86-year-old Roseville resident Jim Williamson, who was one of the founders of the luncheon. The other founders were Dave Butters, who worked for the Zellerbach Paper Co.; Gene McGee, the head buyer for United Grocers; Don Cronin, a self-employed food broker, Vince Calaci, a food broker for the Mel-Williams Co.; and Al Wong, one of the owners of Bel Air Markets.
In speaking about the establishment of the event, Williamson said, “There was a group of guys called the Wednesday Club (which was founded by Butters, McGee, Cronin and Calaci in the 1980s) and they used to take all the buyers in the valley to lunch every year. (The club) was organized and they met every Wednesday. When I retired (in March 1993), the Bel Air (grocery chain) people had just sold out to Raley’s. So, these guys (of the club) wanted to put on a joint retirement party for the Bel Air people and me. They invited about 300 or 400 people, old guys that were either working or retired in the industry to come to this joint retirement of me and the Bel Air guys, and we had 200 people show up. I looked around and I saw what was happening. There was so much camaraderie and reunion type things going on. To the guys, I said, ‘Why don’t we do this for a Christmas party every year – a holiday party?’ And they said, ‘Well, that’s fine.’ So, I volunteered myself, and Al Wong became part of the committee and we called it the Old-Timers’ Club. It turned out so successful we did it for 19 years. I then got too tired. I was carrying a lot of the load, so I just decided it was too much for us.”
Louise Menzer, secretary and past president of Sacramento Quality Travelers, a service organization for the grocery industry, said that SQT has since sponsored the event.
“Jim Williamson of the original committee sent out a letter to all the old-timers inviting some other group to assume the task of planning the event,” said Menzer, who spent 20 years working for the California Independent Grocers Association. “I went to one of our club meetings and presented a motion that we should take over the sponsoring of the event. This (year) was our third time sponsoring the event.”
Menzer, 82, added that the event was originally an all-male function, but about five years ago the group voted to invite women to their annual luncheon. Among the current female members of the organization is its outgoing president, Annette Arnall. She will be replaced in that position by Larry Wright, a former Maxwell House coffee worker, on Dec. 13.
In addition to SQT’s sponsorship of the old-timers luncheon, the organization hosts a crab feed at the Dante Club in February or March, an Easter egg hunt on the Saturday before Easter, free lunches for members on the first Friday in May, a trip to a River Cats game in June, weekly golf get-togethers, an annual golf tournament and a Christmas installation luncheon, which benefits the Crisis Nursery Program of the Sacramento Children’s Home.
Guest speakers have been a part of the annual program since after its 15th year. Other speakers have included the first Dallas Cowboys quarterback, Eddie LeBaron, an All-Star San Francisco 49ers player, Save Mart CEO and majority owner Bob Piccinini, and Chico State University President Paul J. Zingg, who spoke about sports, mainly baseball.
This year’s edition of the event featured a speech about Raley’s and the challenges that and other stores face due to an evolving industry and culture, by Alhambra, Calif. resident Kevin Curry, who has spent more than 35 years working in the retail food business.
Curry, who has held positions with Alpha Beta, Lucky’s, Albertson’s and Safeway, is presently Raley’s senior vice president of sales, marketing, advertising and merchandising.
Also speaking at the event was the luncheon’s emcee Marlin Larson, who formerly worked for Mayfair Markets in Northern and Southern California and handled the total grocery operations for Albertson’s in Northern California.
Larson, who moved to the area from Southern California in the 1970s, recalled the 1950s as a time when a customer went to a local grocery store, not for price, but for various other reasons ranging from convenience to a desire to visit with a favorite butcher.
“The pricing was pretty much the same,” said Larson, who attended the event with his wife, Gloria, who he married 58 years ago. “It didn’t matter too much where you shopped. In about 1963, in Southern California, a chain called Lucky’s started the discount operation, and then eventually it moved in 1971 up here into Northern California. All of a sudden pricing became important.”
Larson also brought humor to the event. For instance, when referring to Calaci, he said, “Vince really goes back. I was talking to Vince the other day, and I said, ‘When did you start the industry?’ He said, ‘Well, at the time, I called on the Indians at Sutter’s Fort.’”
Menzer also spoke at the event, as she paid tribute to former industry workers who had passed away since the last luncheon. These members were: Jerry Arthur (Safeway), Chuck Collings (Raley’s), Dan Delise (Bradshaw, Inc. North), Henry Fong, Don Ingoglia (Tony’s Fine Foods), Tony Kunis, Rich LaBryer (Bromor North), Irene Lunardi, Joe Mar, Clarkson “Bud” Mogford (Hills Bros. Coffee), Owen O’Donell (Raddar Dallas Co.) and Earl Wainscott (Safeway).
While observing the attendees of last Friday’s gathering as they socialized with one another, Williamson, an Arkansas native who moved to California in February 1947, said, “This is what it’s all about.”
Among those who were enjoying the company of other guests of the event was Calaci.
In reminiscing about his career, Calaci said, “It was a fun business. Typically a broker was as good as his word.”
And in lamenting the changes that have occurred since his retirement, Calaci said, “It’s all computers now. I know how to turn one off, because I’ve got a 3-pound sledgehammer.”
Don Luttrell, who worked for Minute Maid, a division of the Coca-Cola Bottling Co., from 1964 to 1989, described the annual luncheon as “wonderful.”
“It’s nice to get everybody together,” Luttrell said. “I’ve been here (at the luncheon) almost every time.”
Lee Glaves, 84, had a long career in the industry that included working for a food broker and Mezzetta brand foods. He said that although it is nice to see so many people attend the event, “it is a little bit hard to remember everybody.”
Ninety-two-year-old Floyd L. Levick, a Bayard, Neb. native who began residing in California following World War II, also shared details about his career.
“I got out of the service on the first of August (1945) and on the second of August, I went to work for Tom Raley,” Levick said. “I was there at (the Raley’s store at 4408 Freeport Blvd.). I was the manager (of the store). I was with Raley’s until 1963.”
And while motioning to a man named Steve Homentowski, who was sitting to the left of him, Levick said, “He worked for me.”
Homentowski responded by saying, “There was a little subdivision called Tallac Village and there was a shopping center there (which still exists today), and Mr. Levick (was managing Raley’s) Store (No. 12) there (at 6000 14th Ave. in about 1955). There used to be a Stop-N-Shop (Market) across the street (at 6001 14th Ave.) years and years ago. I worked for (Levick) and I became assistant manager and I worked at several stores and I became manager (in about 1959). I worked (in Store No. 16 at 940 Sacramento Ave.) in Elkhorn Village (in today’s West Sacramento) and I had (Store) No. 10, which was (at 525 W. El Camino Ave.) in North Sacramento. I wound up in (Store) No. 5 (at 4408 Freeport Blvd.) after (Raley’s) built a new store. That was the last store that I managed before I left the company (in about 1965).”
Beyond those who attended the event, there were those who were unable to attend the event due to various reasons.
Williamson, whose work history includes his employment at small grocery stores in the late 1940s and working for Raley’s from 1958 to 1993, said that among those who he missed seeing at the event was Steve Nettleton, who unfortunately suffers from Parkinson’s disease.
Nettleton, who was the luncheon’s emcee from 1993 to 2007, is also recognized for contributing more than $2 million to improvements to Chico State University’s former Roy Bohler (baseball) Field – now Nettleton Stadium.
In commenting about this year’s luncheon, in general, Arnall said, “It was a wonderful get-together for everybody and hopefully we can get more people interested and more people to come next year.”
In speaking about the fact that his late father became the 100,000th person to be interred at the cemetery, which was established in October 1904, George Eppaminondas Johnson II said, “First of all, it blows my mind that so many people are (interred) there. I thought that was remarkable. Probably from the standpoint that it’s like, yet again, it’s sort of another achievement, you know, notch in the wall for my dad. It’s obviously sheer, absolute luck that it happened to be him (who became the 100,000th interment). He would have loved that (trivial fact). He would have told everybody about it, and he probably is (telling everybody), just upstairs. So, I just think that’s sort of neat. It’s just part of who he was. If it was going to happen to anybody, it would happen to him, so he could brag about it.”
George II, his sister, Lisa (Johnson) Mangels, and many other people who knew Eppie well recognized him as a charismatic character who enjoyed interacting with others.
As an example of his father’s showmanship and what he referred to as a “generously sized ego,” George II explained part of the reason why his father maintained his Eppie’s restaurants for so many years.
“For (Eppie), one of the things that kept him from selling the restaurants and had him hang on to them longer than he probably should have was (the restaurants) were him,” George II said. “It was his identity. His name was up in lights, so to speak, with all these signs or whatever.”
And Eppie’s own physical identity was great, as well, as he attracted attention for his colorful, flashy clothing; thick, wavy hair; stylish facial hair; blue eyes; and outgoing demeanor for many years.
In his latter years, Eppie was still a man who never shied away from the limelight.
Long before Eppie became a well known figure in the Sacramento area, he had spent many years living on the East Coast.
Eppie’s life began on May 7, 1928, when he was born to his parents, George Eppaminondas Johnson I (1898-1979) and Anastasia “Fotini” (Mousmoules) Johnson (1904-1962). He was raised in the Astoria neighborhood of Queens, N.Y. and had one sibling, Paula (Johnson) Alexander (1925-2000).
Eppie’s parents divorced in the 1940s, and Eppie was raised by his mother, who brought income to her family through her work in a millinery shop.
Eppie’s father, who was a native of Broussa, Turkey, relocated to Reno and he later moved to Sacramento.
George I was a well-known businessman, who gained much notoriety in Sacramento through his Del Prado Restaurant, which was located at 5500 Stockton Blvd. He was also recognized in other circles, as he was an essential member of the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation in Sacramento and a nationally-known figure in Democratic politics.
While growing up in Astoria, Eppie was involved in lifeguarding and in the Boy Scouts. He eventually became a Life Scout, which is one rank below Eagle Scout, the program’s highest attainable rank.
Eppie later attended New York University, and the University of Nevada, Reno, where he was active in the ROTC. And following his graduation from the latter named institution, he served in the Army.
In 1950, Eppie moved to Sacramento to assist his father at Del Prado Restaurant.
Last week, George II spoke about the moment that led to his father’s solo venture in the restaurant field.
“After my dad got fired for the second time by his dad, that’s when my dad said, ‘Forget this, I’m going off on my own.’ His father said, ‘You’ll never make it on your own without my help.’ And so, of course, that fueled the fire even more to say, ‘I’m going to prove you wrong.’”
Eppie ultimately established his own catering business, and he catered to many functions, including store openings on the K Street Mall.
In 1964, Eppie made a major career move when he opened Eppie’s Restaurant and Coffee Shop at 3001 N St., where an IHOP restaurant now operates.
From that point, Eppie began establishing other Eppie’s locations, including sites in Las Vegas, Cameron Park, Turlock and other Sacramento area locations such as 6341 Florin Road, 4600 Madison Ave., 2525 Watt Ave. and 4657 West Capitol Ave.
Adding to his accomplishments with Eppie’s restaurants, Eppie also had several restaurants, called Eppaminondas. These restaurants, which opened in the late 1970s, were located at Cal Expo, in Rancho Cordova and in Stockton.
Eppie, who was married to Nancy C. Johnson for 29 years before their marriage ended in divorce in about 1983, also purchased tennis clubs in Davis and in the south area at 6000 South Land Park Drive.
Although Eppie no longer owned any restaurants or tennis clubs at the time of his death, the old West Sacramento Eppie’s continues to operate under a different ownership that has no association with the Johnson family.
As for his aforementioned founding of Eppie’s Great Race, George II said, “How Eppie’s Great Race came to be was (Eppie) and a good friend of his who happened to be a K2 ski rep were skiing. They were chitchatting and (the friend) said, ‘You know, Eppie, we ought to do a triathlon.’ (Eppie) said, ‘What do you mean?’ And he said, ‘We ought to ski from the top of Alpine Meadows down to the bottom, run out to the Truckee River and kayak down the Truckee River into Truckee.’ My dad said, ‘That sounds like a great idea, but I don’t have any restaurants up in Tahoe.’ So, that planted the seed and two or three weeks later, my dad thought, ‘Aha, I know what we can do.’ He was a promotion guy and he wanted to promote his restaurants. He said, ‘We’ll start out at the Eppaminondas – which is now Hooters – at Zinfandel (Drive) and (Highway) 50 (in Rancho Cordova), winds through Rancho Cordova and Sacramento to wind up at the Eppie’s – which is now the Outback Steakhouse – on Howe Avenue. So, that is where the idea was born.”
Eventually, the race, which originally supported the Aquarian Effort (today’s WellSpace Health), was relocated to the American River Parkway.
The nonprofit race, which is billed as “The World’s Oldest Triathlon” and is recognized as the nation’s largest paddling event, celebrated its 40th anniversary this year.
It consists of a 5.82-mile running stage, a 12.5-mile bicycle stage and a 6.35-mile kayaking stage.
The current primary benefactor of the event is Sacramento County Therapeutic Recreation Services. The race has raised more than $1 million for that organization.
Eppie passed away at the age of 85 on Sept. 16 and was interred at East Lawn Memorial Park eight days later.
In understanding both the importance of East Lawn, “which stands as a guardian of history from generation to generation by preserving individual, family and community heritage,” and the impact Eppie made on the community, East Lawn President Alan Fisher said, “It may well be fitting that the person with this household name in Sacramento became our 100,000th interment at East Lawn Memorial Park.”
Former Pocket area resident and California native Paul Dale Roberts has lived an eventful life, which includes his recognition as Sacramento’s only two-time “disco king” during the 1970s.
Roberts spent the first nine years of his life residing in Fresno, and due to his father’s work as a tax investigator, his family relocated to other parts of the state. Among those places were San Bruno, Monterey, Stockton and Visalia.
A 1973 graduate of Oceana High School in Pacifica, Calif., Roberts has had a lifelong love of music.
In recalling some of his earlier memories about his connection to music, Roberts said, “Before disco was popular, I was really heavy into rock and roll. So, I was seeing bands, going to concerts (featuring) Santana, Tower of Power, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Buddy Miles. Oh, I went to the Monterey Pop Festival, and at (that festival), I snuck in. And I saw Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Otis Redding. That was a famous concert. So, I went to the Monterey Pop Festival and I was so happy and proud that I got there. I wanted to do Woodstock, but I didn’t make it.”
In response to the question of how he became involved with disco, Roberts said, “I learned how to do disco dancing when I was in the Army. So, from 1973 to 1976, I was working undercover narcotics in Germany. I was working with CID – Criminal Investigation Division. I would watch all these dancers and before I knew it, I was picking up on their moves. And I had to hang out at a lot of discothèques in Germany. And disco wasn’t really big yet in the United States, but it was really big in Germany. In 1976, when I got out of the Army, the very first job I landed was with Arthur Murray’s Dance Studios (at 1422 K St.). So, I became an Arthur Murray’s dance instructor, and I became really, really proficient in dancing. Anyway, someone told me, ‘Paul, you ought to enter some of these dance contests, because they give you money.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, maybe so.’ So, I went to this dance competition at the California Steam & Navigation Co. (at 914 2nd St.), which we referred to back then as Steamboat Navigation, in Old Sacramento in 1977. The judge for that contest was Monti Rock III, who played the disc jockey in (the 1977 disco film), ‘Saturday Night Fever.’ I placed third in the contest.”
In March of 1979, Roberts entered another dance contest, which was held at Country Club Plaza and (the famous disc jockey) Wolfman Jack (1938-1995) was the judge. I came in second place. It was the beginning toward my dancing career as the disco king.”
After placing second in that contest, Roberts was approached by the California Steam & Navigation Co.’s disc jockey, Bill Lawley, who had noticed that he was out dancing nearly every night of the week.
In recalling that moment, Roberts said, “The only night I didn’t go out was on Monday nights. (The disc jockey) said, ‘Paul, you have so much energy. You’re always dancing and you’re really good.’ He said, ‘Have you ever thought about breaking the (mark in the) ‘Guinness Book of World Records’ (now ‘Guinness World Records’ book) in disco dancing?’ But come to find out, there was no record for disco dancing in the ‘Guinness Book of World Records.’ So, I attempted (to establish a) ‘Guinness Book of World Records’ (mark). The very first time was 79 hours. And I accomplished it, and there were a lot of paparazzi there. There was even (a photographer from) a disco magazine from Germany that was there taking pictures. And come to find out that the ‘Guinness Book of World Records,’ they said, ‘No, you don’t have a record, because your breaks were too long.’ But because of that, I got other people excited. They wanted the ‘Guinness Book of World Records’ (mark), because I made national news with that. So, some other person did it and they had like 185 hours. So, I had a local television news reporter, and he goes, ‘This guy has the ‘Guinness Book of World Records’ (mark) for disco dancing for 185 hours. Can you beat him?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I can do it.’ So, I said, ‘I’ll dance for 205 hours – eight and a half days.’”
Roberts said that to make the mark official, Guinness sent their own representatives to observe him, and that these witnesses monitored his eating and bathroom breaks. And he mentioned that he had to dance while he was eating.
Roberts explained that he had an assistant who occasionally aided him in his quest to set a new Guinness record.
“They had this incredibly big German woman there,” Roberts said. “She was a weight lifter (with) huge muscles, everything. You would think she was on steroids. And there was a couple times where I was ready to fall out, and she was there to hold me and dance with me slow, so I wouldn’t fall out. So, as soon as I got my energy, I said, ‘I can do it on my own now. You can let me go.’”
Roberts eventually completed his goal of dancing for 205 consecutive hours, partially at Country Club Plaza and partially at the Sacramento Community Center. He was transferred from one venue to the other, while continuing to dance inside of a van.
In further speaking about his successful efforts to achieve that then-new record, Roberts said, “I was hallucinating, because I was dancing so much and everything.”
Since Roberts’ 205 consecutive hours of dancing generated money for Easter Seals, his dancing was televised live on the Easter Seals telethon.
Roberts would only hold onto his record of 205 consecutive hours of dancing for one month, as a man from South Africa beat Roberts’ record with a mark of 329 hours.
But his short-lived record was recognized by Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, which presented a comic strip featuring drawings of Roberts.
Roberts said that although he had planned to break the South African man’s disco dancing mark by dancing for 400 consecutive hours, he later became discouraged to do so.
“So, I had another reporter, and he goes, ‘Paul, are you going to (dance for) 400 hours and beat this guy?’ Roberts said. “And I said, ‘Yeah.’ The only thing is, disco died.”
Among the attendees of the event were Nevis, Dutra and Silva family members, who traveled from various parts of the country, including the East Coast and Hawaii.
The gathering was held on Saturday, Sept. 28 at the home of Bill and Louisa (Dutra) Correa.
Louisa grew up in the Pocket area’s well-known Dutra House and was the daughter of Lorrene Helen (Nevis) Dutra, who was one of the 15 children of Manuel and Mary Nevis.
Beverly Espinosa, who is Louisa’s cousin, explained how the reunion was arranged.
“We talked about it about a year ago at (The Old) Spaghetti Factory (at 1910 J St.) when we had a small (family) reunion (with about 40 people),” Beverly said. “Louisa decided that we would have (a large family reunion) at her house, and so we all got together about three months ago and tried to find relatives. We sent fliers, we sent out e-mails to let them know we decided on this reunion. A lot of it was (announced by) word (of) mouth.”
Eventually through much planning and preparation, the large reunion in Clarksburg finally occurred.
Certainly, part of the motivation to arrange a larger reunion was based on the advanced ages of some of the family’s senior members.
Planning for the reunion also provided motivation toward gathering additional family history and old photographs.
In the process of planning for the reunion, a group photograph from the family’s last large reunion in 1957 was reviewed.
About 25 of the more than 80 people who are pictured in that old photograph attended the recent reunion.
Using many historic family photographs, Beverly’s daughter, Mary Anne, created various posters to represent the reunion’s families. The posters were hung up to be viewed during the event.
Mary Anne, who helped organize the large reunion with Louisa and her cousins, said that the reunion presented opportunities to meet some of her cousins for the first time.
And Mary Anne added that she was pleased by the number of people who were in attendance at the event.
“The turnout was more than we expected,” Mary Anne said. “We had thought that we might reach 100. So, we were well over 100. I think I counted about 110 people. This is fantastic. It turned out much better than we anticipated, and we’re hoping to get more (family) stories. There was an interview questionnaire that went out to everyone as they signed in, so I’m hoping that they’ll turn that back in and we’ll get other stories.”
During the gathering, three of the most senior attendees of the event shared their memories with The Pocket News.
Two of these people were Irene Williams and Dolores Tippett, whose parents were Daniel and Mary (Nevis) Rose. Mary was one of the aforementioned 15 children of Manuel and Mary Nevis.
The Nevis family’s history in the Pocket dates back to 1868, when Manuel’s parents, Joseph and Mary Silva (later Nevis), moved to the area.
During their interviews with this paper, Irene and Doris spoke about various events in their lives.
Irene, who was the most senior family member at the event, was born on Jan. 29, 1922 and married George Williams on Dec. 28, 1940.
In recalling her youth, Irene said that she was once crowned the Riverside Portuguese Holy Ghost Festa queen.
“We had a big chamarrita – a big dance,” Irene said. “So, we danced all night and talked all day. And then we danced on Saturday. On Sunday, we went to church and showed my outfit. I had a long, white dress, so they wanted to see the queen’s dress.” After being asked how she felt to have been honored as the queen, “Irene said, ‘Oh, I thought I was smart.”
Irene added, “My uncle (Frank Rose) was one of the big shots of the town and he chose me to be the queen. So, that’s how I got to be elected to be queen.”
And when asked if she was the prettiest gal in town, Irene responded, “Sure, why not?”
Dolores, 82, recalled that both her father and mother worked until her father became ill.
“They both worked and then my dad got sick and didn’t work anymore, so my mother was the bread winner,” Dolores said. “When I turned 17, after I graduated from Sacramento High School, I went to work with my mother. We worked at Sutter Laundry (at 1714 28th St.). We worked at another laundry. And then I got a job at Capital National Bank at 7th and J (streets), and then it was Crocker-Anglo (National Bank) and then Wells Fargo bought it. After that, I quit working (for) eight years and I had two children, one deceased.”
Dolores added that her work experience began much earlier than she had previously mentioned.
“As soon as I walked, I think I was out in the field picking almonds,” she said.
In further speaking about her father, Dolores said, “Every day of the week, he went to the Colonial (Theater at 3522 Stockton Blvd.). He would go every day and see the same movies, two and three or four times, and he would sit there all the time. I lived on 10th Avenue, 14th Avenue, 16th Avenue and Stockton Boulevard. We moved. We never stayed in one spot.”
And after being asked to speak about her own entertainment activities around that time, Dolores said, “I used to go catch the bus with the Red Cross and go to the different Air Force bases and dance. I did that for about eight years and then I got married (to Kenwood Tippett, who was the nephew of Carmichael Fire Chief Dan Donovan) and I lived in Carmichael. I’ve been there (for) 55 years.”
In describing a more local story about herself and Irene, Dolores said, “We didn’t know how to swim, so (her uncle Clarence Nevis) threw us in the Sacramento River (near today’s Garcia Bend Park), and to this day, she doesn’t swim and I don’t swim. It scared us. I was crying and crying and my uncle said, ‘What are you crying for?’ And I said, ‘You threw me in the river.’ He said, ‘I wanted you to swim.’ And I said, ‘That’s no way to teach anybody to swim.’ I was about 6.”
Edward Mauricio, who turned 91 on Oct. 2, was also among the more senior family members at the reunion.
Edward’s father was Manuel Mauricio and his mother was Carrie (Nevis) Mauricio, who was a daughter of Manuel and Mary Nevis.
During his interview for this article, Edward said, “I (grew up about a half-mile from the Pocket) in the (Riverside) area right next to the river, until I was 5 years old,” Edward said. “My father passed and then my mother got rid of the ranch and we lived in the house across the street. The ranch was 33 acres, and was (on Riverside Road), about a mile south of William Land Park. (The ranch) had wheat, some grapes, alfalfa, some orchards, peaches. That’s all I can remember.”
Edward said that following his father’s death, his uncle, Manuel Cabral, operated the ranch for about one or two years.
A Japanese man named Shig Masuhara, and his family, operated the ranch up until World War II and then returned to run the ranch again, since the Machado family had ranched the property for them during their internment.
Edward said that during the summers of his high school years, he worked on a hay press to earn money, and that his first car was a 1926 Model T.
“I had promised the gentleman that I bought (the car) from that I would take good care of it,” recalled Edward, who had a sister named Isabel Matranga. “I said, Yes, I will.’ And the first thing I did was take the fenders off, cut the top off and then we would go out there on 24th Street and Fruitridge (Road) and race around the open field there.”
Although no plans for another reunion have been set, there are nonetheless family members who would like to see more reunions for their family in the future.
One such family member is 19-year-old Eric Espinosa, who said, “As someone else was saying, when older generations of the cousins were growing up, they all knew each other, because they were neighbors who lived next to each other. So, like my generation, and my siblings and such, we don’t like really know all of our cousins, and even like our extended cousins. So, it’s really nice to get to come together and meet all of these people that we’re actually related to. And so then, the reason I want to see this continue is because it’s only going to get bigger.”
The Sunday afternoon and early evening gathering drew more than 100 people of Italian descent who enjoyed potluck Italian dishes and other edibles, a bocce ball tournament and conversations focusing on a variety of topics, including family history.
As usual, the DeFazio and Pane families had the greatest representation at the event, which is held on the Sunday closest to Columbus Day.
The roots of the event date back to roughly 40 years ago, when members of the DeFazio family began getting together for informal gatherings.
But in order to better maintain the traditions of old-time Italian families in Sacramento, it was decided that an annual Italian family event would be organized.
Terri DeFazio, who is one of the daughters of Tony and Shirley DeFazio, said that it was her Aunt Marge – Margaret (DeFazio) Jacobs (1928-2012) – who was the driving force behind the establishment of the annual picnic. She also mentioned Bill and Mark DeFazio and Paul Jacobs as playing important roles in that process.
During its initial years, the annual gathering was held at William Land Park and featured a golf tournament, followed by a picnic.
But about seven years ago, the picnic was relocated to East Portal Park, where the bocce ball tournament replaced the golf tournament. Mark and Steve DeFazio were the original organizers of the bocce ball tournament.
Undoubtedly, the concept of sharing family memories and preserving Italian heritage and culture is important to these families. And the presence of the most senior members of these families immensely aids in that process.
One attendee of the event who was able to share nearly century-old history of her family from a life experience standpoint was Sue Carole (Pompa) Conte.
“I was born on Dec. 20, 1917,” said Conte, who graduated from Sacramento High School on June 13, 1935. “My parents were Irene and Marco Pompa. And that was in Lawrence, Mass. I was the youngest of six kids. I had one brother and four sisters. My oldest sister (Mae) got married (to Mike Campanella) when I was 7 years old, and within three or four months, my dad had us all packed up to come to California, because that’s where she ended up. We came straight to Sacramento. My mother and dad rented a house (at 4101 V St.) until our house was built at 1833 42nd St. God, that was a nice house. It was wonderful growing up in the area. There weren’t too many houses on the street yet, but boy, they built up real quick.”
In discussing her family’s Italian heritage, Conte said, “My (parents) came from Italy. My dad came first and then he sent for (Irene) after he got a job and everything. She came over all by herself.”
Roseville resident Charles LaPorte, Jr., 75, also shared his family’s history, as follows: “The LaPorte family came (to America) in the late 1890s. They were Philip DaPorte and Mary Ann DaPorte, and her maiden was Piccoli. They came from Castana, Calabria. My father was the first of four children. He was named Charles, also. Charles was first, Ana was second, Louis was third and Joseph was fourth. Charles LaPorte was one of the first California Highway Patrol officers in 1920. I was the (only child) and I have one daughter. I worked for the fire department in the city of Roseville for 30 years, and I was the fire marshal.”
Charles LaPorte, Jr., who noted that he has been to at least 15 of the 17 picnics, said, “I think the (Calabrese Picnic) is neat. I think it’s a good gathering, because it’s the only time I get to see somebody.”
Teresa (Pane) Mohamed, 57, who has also attended the family picnic nearly every year since its inception, also shared family history.
“My father, who is no longer with us, his name was Joseph Pane, Jr., and his father who came from Calabria was Joseph Pane, Sr.,” Mohamed said. “My father’s father and my grandmother had six boys and one girl, and they were all Panes and they lived right over on 56th Street. My grandfather’s brother, he had six girls and one boy. In each of these families, one of the siblings died (when they were very young). On my father’s side, a little boy died when he was just a little small baby and on my grandfather’s brother’s side, a little girl died.”
In telling about her immediate family growing up, Mohamed said, “I grew up with my dad and mom and five kids [at 3501 Elvas Ave.] and my brother, Joe, lives in the house we grew up in.”
Mohamed also complimented the Calabrese Picnic, saying, “I think it’s fantastic, I think it’s great, I think it’s incredible. And it keeps us connected with the other family members and I think it’s an incredibly special thing.”
Donna Thayer added, “I think (the event) is wonderful. I think it’s very casual. I think it’s warm. People seem genuinely happy to see each other, and I think it’s a testament to my grandmother (Christina DeFazio) and to (Louis DeFazio), the grandfather I never knew who my mother [Bernadine (DeFazio) Thayer, who married Don Thayer in 1959] has always spoken of in such glowing terms. She has spoken about him and the kind of man he was and the integrity he had. So, it’s a wonderful thing to kind of honor them.”
Ronnie Pane, whose family local history dates back to the early years of East Sacramento, said that despite the success of the picnic throughout the years, he is concerned about how long the event can continue into the future.
“It’s (difficult) to preserve family history when all the old folks are passing away,” Ronnie said. “Unless the kids are carrying on the tradition, which we’re trying to do, it’s like anything else. Just look around, what’s the medium age, like 55, 60. Before it was like 75, 80 when I was a kid. It’s a shame, because the older folks are the ones trying to carry on the tradition. What happens is when the marriages take place and they’re not Italian, the Italian culture isn’t as strong. At some point in time (the Calabrese Picnic) will be nonexistent. It happens in any culture anywhere in the world. There’s nothing you can do about it. At some point in time, people will say, ‘I would rather go to Target than come to this thing.’ How much longer will this event be around? I couldn’t tell you.”
Another one of the daughters of Tony and Shirley DeFazio, Debbie DeFazio, added, “Our generation is continuously respectable of our family’s heritage. Uniquely, the DeFazio cousins all grew up together and we feel, whether it continues to be the Calabrese Picnic, we will find away to keep the family together.”
While sitting near her father, Gerald Maguire, who is Marie DeFazio’s son, 13-year-old Kimmy Maguire spoke about her excitement in attending the picnic and her desire to have it continue into the future.
“I never knew I was related to this many people,” Kimmy said. “Personally I know about 10 people (at the picnic) and I know of about 20 (people at the event). People whom I don’t know at all (but she met number), probably 30 people. I live in Southern California, but I might move up here in the future. There’s a lot of the DeFazio/Maguire family up here and I think we would all get together and kind of keep the event going.”
That section, the Sierra Hills Pet Cemetery, was established 41 years ago as a way of presenting the public with an attractive final resting place for their cherished pets.
Located in a serene and tranquil park-like setting, the pet cemetery is situated on a 6-acre site, the majority of which is not yet developed.
It was only until recently that a second acre of the cemetery was opened to full body and cremation interments.
As one might image, the cemetery, which is one of only two pet cemeteries in Sacramento County, consists of mainly dog and cat interments, with dogs making up about 65 percent of the interments.
The cemetery includes a small number of the remains of other animals such as reptiles, rabbits, birds, a goldfish, a horse in the “country burial area” and a goat named Casper the Friendly Goat, who was a prize-winning goat.
Forty-six police dogs, two of which died in the line of duty, are interred in a special section of the cemetery.
A new marker, which stands about 3 and a half feet tall, was recently placed in that area in honor of police and military dogs.
The military dog section is so new that the area is yet to have its first burial.
Another new area, which awaits its first burial, is known as Aspen Glen. Hundreds of burial sites are available in that location.
Also in the works is an estate area, in which a family can purchase their graves near their pets’ graves. The animal portion of the area, which was established two weeks ago and is separated from the human burial side by a demarcation line, is known as the St. Francis Pet Estates.
To date, 1,421 pets have been interred at the cemetery, and on average, there are about five burials per month.
Lisa West, who serves as East Lawn’s pet loss director and marketing and community outreach director, explained that since a pet can become a significant part of one’s life, the death of a pet can be a very difficult experience for its owner.
“What we’re finding is (for) a lot of people, (pets are) their family, because maybe they never married, never had children, they always had a pet or they had a pet for a really long time – 20 years,” West said. “Some cats can live to be 26, 27. I had a lady bring in a parrot. It was over 50 years old. She had it for her entire life. That parrot talked to her and everything. And then elderly people, their children have moved away and they don’t have a companion. Maybe their husband or wife has died. But they have their pet and their pet has been their companion. And they’re just devastated when they lose their pet.”
But fortunately, locals can be comforted through the assistance of the Sierra Hills Pet Cemetery and its accompanying East Lawn Pet Loss Center.
In describing East Lawn’s approach to its pet cemetery operations, West said, “We treat them exactly the same as we treat humans as far as we take the pet into our care, we seat and meet with the family, we talk to them, we give them all their options. There is a lot to it. And (the pet cemetery) is getting to be more and more popular.”
And in discussing how confident a person should be in regard to the pet cemetery’s future existence, West said, “The pet cemetery is dedicated property just the same as the cemetery is (dedicated property). It will never be used for any other purpose. We won’t sell it off and build houses on it. As a matter of fact, right down the freeway at Madison (Avenue) and (Interstate) 80, there used to be a place called Pet Lawn. It was a little pet cemetery (and crematory at 5410 Tyler St.), but it was on leased property, and so when the lease was up, they sold the property and they built houses on it. But right before that (closure), we went and we disinterred all those pets and we brought them here. So, they have their own little spot here. And we brought every marker over, and we still have people come over and visit their pets from (that cemetery).”
A marker on a border of that area reads: “Pet Lawn Garden. This garden has been donated by Sierra Hills Pet Cemetery to those beloved pets from Pet Lawn Cemetery and to the families who cherish their memories. May they rest in peace. 1992.”
Tiffany Stout said that in her role as East Lawn’s pet loss counselor, she provides guidance for people whose pets have either passed away or are in the final stages of their lives.
“(A customer’s) biggest question is ‘What do I do now, where do I go from here?’” said Stout, who was recently hired as the replacement for Bill Becker, who has served in the same position for the past 13 years. “I basically present them with as many options as I can, because a lot of the times we see people who just don’t know what is available to them. They didn’t know that they could bury their pets in a cemetery where they have family here. And they go, ‘That’s great. I didn’t know that there was a pet cemetery there. And now Lucky can be with the whole family.’ If they want to do cremation, they don’t realize that they can have the ashes returned to them in any urn or any kind of container that they would like. And I basically explain that they can inter (an) urn either in a niche or in the ground. They can take the urn home. They can scatter the remains. They can place remains in cremation jewelry. There are a lot of different options.”
Cremation prices are based on a pet’s weight, and the cremation of a small pet such as a cat or a Chihuahua would cost $210. The prices then increase incrementally, generally maxing out at $300.
A full burial costs a considerable amount more, and the price increases extensively when one selects a high-grade, premier casket.
For multiple burials, a customer could purchase estate plots, which measure 6 feet by 6 feet.
The aforementioned East Lawn Pet Loss Center offers a euthanasia service through Dr. Jenny Rutan. The service can be performed in the privacy of one’s home or inside either of the center’s two visitation rooms.
The visitation rooms are most often used as a place for loved ones to spend time with their pets prior to the interment of these animals.
Like cemetery services dedicated to the memory of people, services are held on the grounds of the pet cemetery.
Additionally, one can purchase bronze or granite memorials for placement at a pet’s gravesite.
And to ensure the upkeep of the cemetery for years to come, a portion of the cemetery’s income is placed in a trust.
The Sierra Hills Pet Cemetery is a private cemetery and access is granted by the East Lawn management.
The East Lawn Pet Loss Center is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on weekends by appointment.
For additional information about the Sierra Hills Pet Cemetery and the pet center, call 732-2020.