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Lifestyles

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Brent Parsons
06/20/2014 12:55 PM

In 1992, my family had been in Sutter Creek for three years. The charm of the town and its setting were not yet fading. They still aren’t. The only thing I’ve missed is the ocean, but that was in a package with the negatives of wind, fog and people. To be able to walk to work and support a family seemed too good to be true. At times, it almost was.

Sometime early in that year, Heidi Boitano asked me to run for city council. I did. I had seen and talked to Heidi in town and knew her brother, Louis, was on our city council before she was. She was young and environmentally active in the new Foothill Conservancy. She spoke at an Earth Day celebration and orchestrated some tree plantings. In 1990, she ran for a council seat and won. Heidi told me her dad, Maurice, greeted the news with something less than enthusiasm: “That isn’t a job for a woman,” he told her. “You shouldn’t have done it. I’m embarrassed.”

Heidi served for 12 years, with a term as Sutter Creek’s first woman mayor. I was on the council with her for ten of those years.

Since leaving local government, she has gone from being very public to private. I called her up to talk about her and her town, and to reminisce a little about our days as amateur civic leaders. We met at her long-time family home on Randolph, up the hill from the Monteverde Store, which was once a competitor with her dad’s grocery business a block away, on Main. Her husband, Larry Nash, and she have done so much to the 1850’s house that, if it wasn’t for the location and footprint, her parents wouldn’t recognize it.

The Boitano family is not just native, but now has six generations of Sutter Creek history. And Heidi is fiercely proud and protective of the heritage. She recounted how she and her niece were talking to an outsider and her niece said she was from her school city of Santa Barbara. After the visit, Heidi marched the niece up to the cemetery and pointed out the many monuments to the 150 years of Boitanos in Sutter Creek. “This was their home and it is yours,” Heidi told the niece.

Heidi remembers her town through the eyes of a child. She sees it still as she looks out her window. “I remember buying candy at Monteverde’s on my way down to visit my dad,” she recalled. “Sutter Creek had four markets then.” I asked if she ever went to Sacramento. “Maybe once a year,” she said. “Even Jackson was a special trip. My mom didn’t drive. Jackson had a Sprouse-Reitz and two department stores, Gorman’s and Woodbury’s.” (The department store description must have been used pretty loosely in those days.)

She remembered that Sutter Creek did have Wrinkle’s Five and Dime in the building that now houses the Creekside Shops, which helped pacify the local kids until they could get to Jackson. She spent hours in her dad’s business, C. Soracco Co., which was a combination hardware-grocery store that he owned with John Ferreccio. He bought it after the war, in 1946.

Before the war, he delivered ice from the old ice factory just over the hill. on Amador Road. Heidi showed me a Soracco’s calendar hanging in the living room. It had the usual beautiful woman to catch attention. with the smaller business information below. “This year was obviously Johnny’s selection. My dad’s years had a religious theme. They took turns.”

“I take it your dad was pretty devout?” I inferred.

“The story is that an accidental shell discharged at his base in England," she replied, "and the projectile would have taken off his legs if not for what my dad interpreted as divine interference, which caused him to hesitate to catch his crucifix. which had slipped off his neck.”

Maurice was Catholic, but really Catholic after that. He met Isabella on a weekend pass to Edinburgh, Scotland. He walked into a dance and she was watching in a bright red dress.

“He was so handsome that his nickname here was Hollywood,” Heidi said. “He hated that name. Before departing for military service, he was voted Amador’s most eligible bachelor.” (That’s a category the Dispatch should resurrect.)

Isabelle coyly refused his request to dance, but asked him for a “rain check redemption” later in the evening. He used every pass for the rest of the war to continue the courtship. She converted to Catholicism. They were married, and she immigrated through Ellis Island in 1946.

He had his business partnership and a home on Broadway to welcome her. They had four children, William, Brian, Louis and Heidi. They moved to Heidi’s house in the early 1950’s.

Heidi is a passionate collector of family history. She showed me a dozen photographs of relatives who either were Boitanos or had family ties.

I warned her that I couldn’t keep track of the complicated web of names and relationships, but even if I did, I wouldn’t have room in her story. She went on undeterred, enthusiastically sharing what she has discovered.

The first Boitano, great-grandfather Angelo, got settled in Sutter Creek and sent for the girl he was to marry, Domenica. However, on the boat she fell for a fellow passenger, a Mr. Guilardi, bound for Volcano, and married him. He was reputed to be a good dancer. In the meantime, Angelo made some money in real estate and as a stone mason. Heidi has identified his stone work in walls around the town, one right behind her house. The Domenica–Angelo story had a happy ending, due to Mr. Guilardi’s early death. The young widow, none the worse for wear, married Angelo and outlived him.

Domenica died from a stroke and, for reasons unclear, was buried with her first husband in the corner of the old cemetery next to the church in Sutter Creek. “Legend is that Angelo’s $10,000 in gold was absconded with after his death,” Heidi said. “We have the names of the suspects, but since they still have relatives here, I won’t reveal them. Angelo was buried in a pauper’s unmarked grave. Domenica was able to get a dignified spot by going in with husband number one.”

Heidi lost her mom when she was in her early twenties, after graduating from Sacramento State with a degree in Business Management. “I didn’t have time to look for a career, my mom was ill and I came home to care for her.” That lasted three years before Isabelle’s heart gave out. Without a break, she transitioned to Maurice as his health declined with a neurological disease that Heidi said is in her family’s genes. She was able to keep him at home for the 15 years the disease took to run its course. “I feel blessed that God gave me the strength and ability to help.” Caregiving, grief and mourning helped make her who she is. I’ve heard her speak at funerals. She knows what she is talking about.

I asked about her political career. It was a time of big issues, subdivision applications, political polarity and change. “My sister-in-law, Christine (Louis’s wife) talked me into it. She said there is no way I’m letting Louis run again, so you’d better go for it.” Heidi said, “I really did not think I had a chance. Not only my dad and Father Brennan counseled against it, so did some prominent city women. ‘The men will run over you,’ they told me. They obviously hadn’t talked to my brothers.”

I asked her how she would review the experience. “It was a positive one. I believe we were instrumental in helping the city transition from the small town, fairly informal method of governance to a structure of decision-making that could stand up to legal challenge.”

I know some of the old meetings got pretty rowdy, with threats and taunts from both sides of the podium. We not only learned to bite our tongues, but about proper noticing, conflicts of interest, and the Brown Act. Unfortunately we also learned about litigation and the Grand Jury. I wondered if Heidi could list the issues or decisions that stood out.

“Mesa de Oro was the big one for me,” she recalled. “I had to get Sutter Creek off the hook for the disputed arsenic contamination remediation. I believe Attorney Sullivan and I might have kept the city solvent by successfully pleading our case. We lost our long-time city administrator/clerk, Pearl Campbell, and after Ed Arata covered as an interim, we hired a professional, Brian Nakamura.” (Brian was recently named City Manager of Rancho Cordova. I hope to interview him in the future and see how much he misses us.)

“The employees unionized and you and I negotiated the huge initial MOU with a professional union rep. I still think we did an incredible job, especially for a couple of citizen volunteers.”

Heidi’s last memorable issue in her council days was undoubtedly the one that affected her life the most. After a series of sewer spills over the years when heavy rains flooded our collection system and the main line blew out through manholes, the Water Quality Board took enforcement action and issued a cease and desist order. Sutter Creek had to find a way to replace its main line down the creek and quickly.

The city, guided by Manager Nakamura, got a low-interest loan to fund the project and raised rates to cover the $45,000 or so annual payment. Floods in 1997 damaged the brand new line, but FEMA paid to repair and rebury it. But the bigger news out of all of this for Heidi was that the man who was the state enforcement agent, Larry Nash, is now her husband. They have been married for 17 years. He has four daughters and two grandchildren. One of the grandchildren needed extra care and guess who stepped up to be the caregiver? If Heidi’s not here in Sutter Creek, she is probably there, in West Sacramento, and loving it.

Copyright © 2014 Amador Ledger Dispatch
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