West Marin goat and walnut rancher Walter Pack is ailing and may not make it to his 95th birthday Feb. 12.
But he's determined to be at Fort Ross State Park on the Sonoma Coast later this month and to light the first fire in the 19th-century Russian colony's meticulously researched, historically accurate new masonry wood stove.
Pack, whose parents came from Russia, put up most of the money to build the stove. "He's not a rich guy, but he felt this is the one thing he wants to do as his legacy," said neighbor and friend Frank Binney.
Pack's parents lived in Siberia before they emigrated. Pack, who was born in San Francisco with the name Vladimir Koulakoff, has always been interested in the Russian-American connection.
Binney took him several years ago to see Fort Ross, established by Czarist Russia as a fur-trading outpost in 1812. Binney remembers Pack eyeing the fort's 1980s-era fireplace and harrumphing, "That's not a Russian stove."
It's a long story, how park officials and some partners that include Gualala masonry contractors Vince and Laurie Kreger set out to create an authentic replica of a Russian heating and cooking stove after Pack put up $10,000.
But years later, the stove is pretty much finished and needs to set a bit before it takes its first fire.
Everyone hopes Walt Pack will be at Fort Ross, a beloved spot for multitudes of schoolkids, to ignite the inaugural flame. Pal Binney said, "The hospice nurse thinks that's what's keeping him alive."
GUY IN HIS PRIME: Four years after network TV picked up on Sonoma County restaurateur Guy Fieri, his wild ride accelerates with NBC's announcement that it has picked Guy to host a new prime-time game show.
"I've been sitting on this for about two and a half months," Guy said in Santa Rosa the other day as his family celebrated son Ryder's 4th birthday.
On the show, tentatively called "Perfect 10," he'll direct contestants through a series of 60-second challenges. Successfully complete all 10 tasks and you win $1 million.
Guy said a very cool set is being built in a 350-seat studio in Los Angeles. Shooting starts in a couple of weeks for the show, which doesn't yet have a premiere date.
When it does hit prime time, Guy expects it will appear on Mondays.
So, he's now got his Food Network shows, two best-selling books, a current Playboy interview, a just-completed U.S. tour and a network-TV game show. Oh, and he's preparing to visit the White House and the Obamas to promote cooking with kids.
Say what you will about his barbecued bologna, but he is cookin'.
CHIP THE DOG: Naturally, Kathy Neville promotes placing microchips in dogs and cats. As Sonoma County's agricultural commissioner, she oversees the animal shelter that witnesses the tragedy of lost pets.
But she now has a personal reason to be grateful for microchips. That reason is Diego, a cattle dog she feared she'd lost forever.
Neville, who's been ag commissioner here for about a year, was living in San Diego when Diego vanished late in 2008. For months, she did everything she could think of to find him. No luck.
Recently she received a call from authorities in Camden, S.C. They'd found her contact information on a chip in a dog they'd taken in.