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Whenever the project commences to tear out and replace the stately but decrepit white-picket fence at Luther Burbank Home & Gardens, 96-year-old Peter Bassignani hopes to witness it.

Bassignani is curious to see what sort of effort is required to dismantle the 740 feet of fence. Because he remembers, from 60-some years back, the labor that went into building it.

"I worked on that fence," said Bassignani, a retired carpenter who was born in Santa Rosa's westside Italian quarter in 1917.

He remembers his former boss, contractor Robert Whiting, landing the job to dismantle and restore the previous fence around Luther Burbank's property at Santa Rosa and Sonoma avenues. That was sometime in the 1950s.

Bassignani said he and the rest of the crew did a heck of a job. The fence of redwood pickets, some new and some salvaged from the earlier structure, was constructed atop a concrete curb designed by architect Leland Noel.

Bassignani said the base of each new post was drilled, then a length of galvanized pipe was inserted to a depth of 6 or 8 inches. The other end of the pipe was anchored into the curb.

That baby was built to last. When the restoration project finally was completed, Bassignani and the others admired how solid and beautiful it was, and how true to its predecessor.

As Bassignani recalled, the fence looked great for three weeks. Then, "some guy, I don't know how the hell he did it, but he went through it with a car."

The wrecked section had to be rebuilt yet again. Through the six decades since then, Bassignani can't pass by the Burbank home without admiring the fence he helped to build.

But now it's in sorry shape again. Last week, City Hall and members of the association that operates the city-owned Burbank Home announced they've pooled the money needed to replicate the custom, redwood fence.

Bassignani read the dollar amount and winced as though he'd taken a splinter under a fingernail. He doesn't remember what the fence project of the '50s cost, but he's pretty sure it wasn't $110,280.

PAUL NEWMAN, were he still alive, might head off to Washington, D.C., on Thursday along with Santa Rosa eye doc Gary Barth, "Today Show" host Matt Lauer, Jon Bon Jovi and ex-First Daughter Jenna Bush Hager.

The occasion: A celebration of volunteer service that will award $10,000 gifts from the late actor's Newman's Own Foundation to 14 life-altering projects.

One you may recall.

Last fall, Dr. Barth and a team of ophthalmologists in Santa Rosa performed surgery — free — on 24 local vineyard and farm workers. Most had lost vision to pterygia, a growth commonly caused by excessive exposure to sunlight.

The organization behind that effort, Operation Access, is one of 14 to be honored in D.C. at Thursday's Make A Difference Day Awards Luncheon, co-sponsored by USA Today, Newman's foundation and Points of Light.

Dr. Barth will be there to accept the award for Operation Access. He and fellow Eye Care Institute physicians Robert Anderson, Daniel Rich and the other volunteer docs figure in a nice write-up this weekend in USA Today (link here: http://usat.ly/1lIX87o).

Barth said he's eager for the trip and for this year's second-annual day of free eye surgery for ag workers. He thought it was great that the docs treated 24 the first time. This next time, he said, "We're going to try to do 40."

LOOK GOOD TO GUDE: When staffers at Petaluma Valley Hospital retired four bedside heart monitors, Dr. Jim Gude was right there to provide the old but serviceable machines a new home.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Gude said there is at present just one such vital-signs monitor at the Mama Tabitha Hospital in Kolwezi.

"The sickest patient gets the monitor," he said.

Gude and the Heberden Telemedicine Foundation will get the monitors on their way to a container that a Methodist charity will ship Africa.

He guarantees there's still a lot of life in each of the Hewlett-Packard medical machines — "It's like having a 1980 Chevy truck."

(Chris Smith is at 521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.)