John, Katie Fomasi represent old, rural Cotati
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By Jud Snyder  April 18, 2014 12:00 am

Slip-sliding along from unnamed pastures, farms and chicken houses to streets and upscale homes now in quiet collision with their predecessors, that chunk of maybe Cotati or maybe unincorporated county, lying south of where Lancaster Avenue ends and east of Old Redwood Highway, is probably terra incognito to most Cotatians. Even more so to Rohnert Park residents.

Go east on Fern and Eucalyptus avenues past the newer homes and you’ll slip past the dividing line into neatly trimmed pastures, older farm homes, sturdy mature trees, cows and chickens, crows and vultures. 

The contrast is readily visible. It deserves a history of its own before the new inevitably chews up the old.

John and Katie Fomasi have lived on a seven-acre farmstead in the middle of the old section for the last 60 years. John will be celebrating his 93rd birthday in a month or so and Katie’s 89 years old. They have four children ranging in age from 70 on down to the 30’s, Marlene, Janice, Carol and Raymond. The refrigerator in the Fomasi house’s kitchen is filled with photos of them plus their nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. You can bet when there’s a family reunion (they all live in neighboring towns), the Fomasi farm is alive with juveniles. 

John was born in Novato and Katie was born in Petaluma.

“It’s quite a coincidence, both our parents are all from the same town in northern Italy called Garzeno.” He pointed out a wooden sign outside the kitchen door with the name “Garzeno” carved on it..

“I have no record our parents knew each other, but I bet they did,” John said.

“My father got a letter from his brother, who owned a dairy cow farm near Tomales. He needed a cow milker, and he knew my father was an excellent milker and urged him to emigrate to California where there were plenty of jobs. Apparently, Katie’s parents thought this was a good idea, too, and they moved to California although not on the same boat.”

Four farm-raised adults from Garzeno arrived in Sonoma County, did their darndest to learn a new language while raising their kids. 

John and Katie didn’t meet until they were in schools near Petaluma, John at Eureka School (now long gone) and Katie at Lakeville School. They discovered they had something in common – both their parents were from the same town in Italy. They found more discoveries about themselves and now have been married for more than 70 years.

“We’ve been back to visit Garzeno, oh, I’d say at least five times over the years to visit our fathers’ relatives. Like out here, the town back in Italy has changed a lot,” said John,  a bright-eyed articulate speaker with a keen memory. “I raised a lot of dairy cows here on our farm plus, of course, quite a few chickens. For a while, we had a lot of chicken farms around us, but they’re gone now.

“I got tired of milking cows and got a job with J and J Dairy Supplies driving a truck. They’ve got a big building out on Bodega Avenue west of Petaluma and I had a good job delivering dairy supplies to all the farms in both Sonoma and Marin counties. After 27 years with J and J, I, so to speak, retired, and contented myself by repairing a dairy friend’s pasture fences. 

Then his neighbor needed a fence repaired and farmers heard about my fence-fixing work, and I had to get a pickup truck, loaded it with tools to keep me going.

“It’s all been word of mouth, and now I have to turn down jobs,” said John. “Fence repairing’s a lonely job, all by yourself fixing up fences where cows have leaned against ‘em trying to get the green grass on the other side. Heck! I’m 92 years old and shouldn’t be all by myself out there digging post holes.” 

Katie agrees on that last point. “He will never fully retire. There’s plenty of upkeep to do just taking care of seven acres. I’ll make sure of that.”

“I’ve given up on dairy cows and sticking to a few steers for butchering and a small bunch of chickens,” John said. “But you’ll notice the fences are all in good shape.”

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