Chet Galeazzi was born 91 years ago in a house of stone, one destined to become a storied Santa Rosa landmark.
Had he followed more closely in the vocational footsteps of his father, Gisto, and his mother's father, Massimo, Galeazzi might have spent his life in the arduous trade of making buildings, headstones, fountains and other creations from Sonoma County rock.
But early on, he discovered he was only so much a chip off the old block.
Tall, lean and gracious, Galeazzi smiles at the memory of being with his mother, Marie, at the gas station next door to his place of birth, the Sonoma Highway edifice long known as the Stone House, and seeing Jimmy Brucker pull up in his delivery truck.
Marie Galeazzi ran the station and Brucker, a beer and soft-drink distributor, supplied her with the soda water that she sold by the bottle. These were the leanest of times, the Depression years of the late 1920s and early '30s, and it left a deep, charmed impression on young Galeazzi when Brucker would hand him a free bottle of sparkling water.
He recalls, "I always said, 'I want to be like Jimmy some day.'"
And that is what the son and grandson of prolific Italian-American stonemasons made happen. After graduating from Santa Rosa High School in 1941 and barely surviving World War II — not because of combat, but illness — Galeazzi founded the humble beverage service that he grew into the hugely successful Eagle Distributing Co.
He sold most of the company, which 30 to 40 years ago expanded by leaps and bounds with the burgeoning popularity of Anheuser-Busch's Fairfield-produced Budweiser beer, in 1989. But two of his four children still operate Eagle's transportation arm and a warehouse in south Santa Rosa that has switched to wine storage.
The better part of a century after he lived in the Stone House, hunted and fished across the Santa Rosa plain and got into hot water for letting his pet goat follow him to the one-room Brush Creek Grammar School, Galeazzi lives a quiet life with his wife of 61 years, Gloria.
He's pleased that his birthplace, built by granddad Massimo in 1909 as the Rincon Hotel, is no longer forlornly vacant but has become home to the Athena House, a substance-abuse treatment residence for women. His life was rooted at that edifice and at a neighboring home and gas station throughout his childhood and beyond.
Though he grew up in one of Santa Rosa's more prominent immigrant families — Massimo Galeazzi was among the master stonemasons who built the train depot, the Carnegie Library, La Rose Hotel and St. Rose Church — getting by required that everyone in the clan work, and hard.
As with most of the city's children, Chet Galeazzi helped out by harvesting prunes, apples and pears. "They would delay the start of school (in the fall) until all the fruit was picked," he recalled.
As a teen he took work at the former Grace Brothers Brewery, loading beer onto railroad cars from 6 p.m. to midnight.
He'd also go to the rock quarries with his father, Gisto, who'd learned from Massimo how to extract and cut stone. Chet Galeazzi remembers his dad locating a vein at a local quarry, drilling into it by hand and placing a small amount of black powder in the hole.