A few of my recent blogs have highlighted our local Historical Museum & Research Library as a “Treasure Chest” that contains many “golden nuggets” pertaining to Petaluma’ past. One of my blog categories is titled, “Petalumans of Yesteryear” and has featured early Petalumans of the 1850s such as: Capt. Thomas Baylis, Clara and Ida Belle McNear, Issac Wickersham, and William Howard Pepper. Over the next few months, I hope to periodically feature additional “Petalumans of Yesteryear,” from more recent times, the 1900s.
The information presented in these new blogs is based upon oral history interviews that have been recorded and transcribed by Museum volunteers over the years. These stories will include direct quotes extracted from these interviews as well as a brief summary of there comments. Those viewers who are interested in reading the complete interviews, the translations are located in the oral history file cabinet in the Hoppy Hopkins Research Library on the second floor of the Museum. Volunteer docents are on duty to help you.
Gene Benedetti was interviewed by Linda L. Musick on March 14, 1997.
My dad came to the U.S. from the boot region of Italy, by himself, in 1910, and went to Bishop and worked as a manual laborer for a year or two before returning to Italy and marrying my mother. They returned to the U.S. in 1913 and settled in San Francisco. I was born in Sonoma December 19, 1819. They moved to Santa Rosa when I was two years old (1921) and bought a little ranch of 5-6 acres on the old 101 highway. During the depression years, Gene and his brother and sister worked on the ranch planting and cutting hay by hand with a scythe, milked cows, fed 10,000 chickens, made cheese, and tended a large garden.
After graduating from the University of San Francisco, Gene served in the Navy during WWII. He took part in many invasions in including Africa, Tunis, Sicily, as well as run ups to Messino, Salerno, and Anzio. Although Gene was supposed to return home after Anzio, he traveled to England and ended up in the first wave that landed in Normandy on Omaha Beach. He was the skipper of an LCT landing craft.
After his separation from the service, Gene returned home; coached football for one year at SRJC, got married and raised a family. (You’ll have to read the oral history document for the full story of this period of his life.) While he was participating in a sports banquet in Petaluma, he met George Domdaro, the manager of the Petaluma Cooperative Creamery who invited him to come to work for him. Gene replied, “I’m really not interested.” He was dedicated to teaching, coaching, and pursuing athletics. After additional meetings with Domdero and seeking advice from the SRJC president and an outstanding dairyman in Northern California (John Watson), Gene decided to try it out as long as he could “keep my hand in football. I want to start a town team.” In 1946, the Leghorns were started and he served as the coach until 1950, when he became the assistant to the manager at Creamery because George Domdaro planned on retiring in a couple of years.
Working two to three months at a time, Gene became well acquainted with each department. In 1955 when George retired, Gene became Manager of the Creamery and continued until Clover and Stornetta’s were purchased lateer. Clover-Stornetta Farms was established in 1977. “Clo the Cow” advertisements (“Support Your Local Cow. Buy Clover Milk”) were placed on billboards, and the dairy became a family managed business that continues to this day with a second and third generation.
Gene died in 2006 at age 86, but his legacy of hard work and creative thinking lives on.
For more detailed information about Gene Benedetti, the Leghorns, and Clover-Stornetta Farms, check out: The “You Tube” oral history interview with Gaye LeBaron online, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clover_Stornetta_Farms