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Fred Wessa

Fred Wessa, a retired Santa Rosa dentist whose myriad fascinations had him flying, sailing, diving, playing a banjo, making wine and passing up no opportunity to share a laugh, a meal or an adventure with his family and friends, has died at age 74.

Wessa, a son of German immigrants who practiced in Santa Rosa for nearly 40 years, died Saturday at the home he built north of town. His heart failed in the midst of a struggle with several ailments.

"His poor body got tired and his heart got tired," said his wife, Tracy. The two of them met in junior high school in San Mateo and married in 1957, a few years before they moved to Santa Rosa and he opened a solo practice on Montgomery Drive.

Initially, Wessa treated only children, but he later extended his practice to adults. "He did enjoy his trade. He loved it," his wife said. He retired in 2000.

Immensely sociable and adventuresome, Wessa enjoyed a great many things. He flew hang gliders and power planes. He was a stalker of lobster and abalone. He played broomball with late "Peanuts" cartoonist Charles Schulz. He restored cars. He trekked the world. He loved tennis and he strummed and sang with The Molar Band. He made wine and enjoyed showing visitors the wine cellar he built of stone.

Wessa savored a good joke, did what he could with a bad one and hated ever to miss a party.

"Everyone was mesmerized when he was telling stories," said friend and longtime patient Bob Salisbury of Healdsburg. He said Wessa was a supreme comic, able to switch perfectly from character to character, accent to accent.

Salisbury said Wessa was remarkable also for way he listened when someone close to him had an issue in need of venting or another pair of ears.

"He was a friend's friend," said Salisbury, who for 20 years joined Wessa monthly for a luncheon with about 10 old friends who liked to try restaurants all around Sonoma County.

Salisbury and Wessa also made wine together. Salisbury grew the grapes, and Wessa handled the fermenting and bottling, then deflected any praise to his buddy the grower.

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