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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.

"It was an art," he said. "When that rock blew, it was just like it had been cut with a blade."

Mere months after Galeazzi was graduated from high school, the attack on Pearl Harbor drew America into World War II. Aspiring to help build ships for the war effort, he learned how to read blueprints, then went to work for shipbuilder Western Pipe and Steel in South San Francisco.

He became a graveyard-shift foreman, and he could have received a war-industries exemption and continued to build ships throughout the war. "All my friends were in the service," he said, "so I joined the army."

The mechanical skills he'd learned at Western Pipe and Steel led to him being assigned to the Army Engineer Corps. He was training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri and preparing to go overseas when he got sick, dreadfully so.

Double pneumonia and scarlet fever almost killed him.

"I was in a hospital for eight months," he said. "I was in an oxygen tent for I don't know how long."

Once he recovered enough to be sent home with a medical discharge, he was ordered not to work for a year.

By 1947, Galeazzi, then 25, was delivering propane cylinders for Empire Gas Service on West College Avenue and got to talking with Jess Gant, who operated a Nehi soda-water bottling plant just across the street. Gant offered to help Galeazzi become a distributor.

Galeazzi hadn't forgotten his childhood dream to deliver beverages, like Jimmy Brucker. He borrowed $1,000 from Exchange Bank to buy a truck and sank all of his savings of $500 into a new business.

For years, Galeazzi worked 12 or 14 hours a day Monday through Saturday. And all through the fair-weather months, he said, every Sunday he would load up his truck with soda water, then Gloria would hop in with him.

Four about five hours, he'd drive along the Russian River from Rio Nido to Monte Rio, making deliveries to hamburger stands and stores, and picking up empties. He'd finish up in early afternoon, and he and Gloria would change into their swimsuits and enjoy a few hours of rest on the beach.

After several years of this, Galeazzi moved from soda water to beer.

He was 67 when he sold the distributorship in 1989. For years after that he held on to a source of pride and joy, the 1930 Model A convertible pickup that he'd purchased as barn junk and restored into a piece of Eagle Distributing rolling art.

He sold the pickup a decade ago to friend Mike Curtis, who maintains it scrupulously, in large degree out of his respect for Galeazzi. Throughout his life, Galeazzi has quietly helped others and boosted Sonoma County through acts such as his 60 years of support of American Legion Post No. 21 and his co-founding of the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, now the Wells Fargo Center.

"I'm not the type that likes to be noticed too much," said the son and grandson of stonemasons.

Galeazzi humbly gives much credit for his successes to his mother, who "believed in me and always gave me hope." And who introduced him to Jimmy Brucker, the generous soda-water delivery man.

<i>Chris Smith is at 521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.</i>

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<i> This article has been revised to reflect the following correction.

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CORRECTION: Added October 18, 2013

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A profile of Chet Galeazzi published on October 6,2013; misstated the relationship of his grandfather. Massimo was his maternal grandfather. Also the name of the late beverage distributor Jimmy Brucker was misspelled.

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