Thomas Konicek

Downtown Santa Rosa has lost of one of its great personalities and storytellers with the passing of Thomas Konicek, a pharmacist and civic star who lighted up historic B Street and just might have made it in show business.

Konicek, a strikingly good-looking former Illinois farm boy who set foot in Santa Rosa as a young airman anticipating the invasion of Japan, died July 3 at the age of 86.

A great stage voice, a head of Hollywood hair and an infectious laugh were prized trademarks back to the days that he enrolled at Santa Rosa Junior College and went on to earn a degree in pharmacology from the University of Colorado.

He started his career at Bowerman?s Pharmacy in San Francisco and then became a partner in the landmark Hall Bros. Drug Store on Fourth Street in Santa Rosa. Forty years ago he opened his own business next to Memorial Hospital and revived the trusted name of the former Hahman Pharmacy.

In the late 1970s he moved Hahman Pharmacy into an old Montgomery Drive gas station that he renovated. There, he lauded himself for coming up with the idea of dedicating some floor space to the sales of fine Sonoma County wines and other specialty items.

?He was on-call as a friend, as a pharmacist,? said Frank McLaurin, a former station manager at KSRO and a longtime friend of Konicek. ?If your child needed a pill on the weekend, he would go down and get one for him.?

McLaurin said there was no finer man than Konicek, and no one who had a greater, more contagious laugh. ?He always made people laugh, just because of his laugh.?

All through his long career as a pharmacist, Konicek entertained customers with sharply timed stories and jokes, and he rarely passed up an opportunity for a stage gig.

He emceed countless local shows, benefits and Teen-Age America and Miss Sonoma County pageants ? he was the voice of the 1963 teen pageant that set Sebastopol?s Karen Valentine on a path to TV stardom.

Konicek?s family recently celebrated the 63rd anniversary of his marriage to the former Barbara Jones, a third-generation Santa Rosa resident. The two met during the war in 1945, not long after the airman was sent to the Army Air Corps base that is now the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport.

Locals had invited Konicek and some other soldiers to a party on McDonald Avenue. Barbara remembers the handsome GI walking up to her at the punchbowl and announcing, ?You don?t know this yet, but someday you?re going to marry me.?

Barbara recalled, ?I came home and told my mother that and she said, ?Never speak to him!??

But she did speak to him, and in 1946 they married.

They came to a crossroads early on, when Konicek considered pursuing a life as an actor. The Army had recognized his qualities and assigned him to Special Services, where he put his talent to work entertaining the troops.

Shortly after the war, he was offered a scholarship to the Pasadena Playhouse, a training ground for Hollywood. He and Barbara had a long heart-to-heart and agreed that he would study to become a pharmacist, and would make performing an avocation.

Throughout his decades as a pharmacist, Konicek was deeply involved in community work. He was a leader of the Santa Rosa Rotary Club, Active 20-30 Club, St. Eugene?s Parish, Cardinal Newman Board of Regents, and served on boards of the Santa Rosa Symphony and the former Luther Burbank Center for the Arts.

He and Barbara raised three children and relished becoming grandparents.

?Tom was a great family man,? said friend Evert Person, the former publisher of The Press Democrat. ?It was a pleasure to be around him at all times, as he enlivened the group with his great sense of humor.?

In 1984, Tom and Barbara Konicek decided to renovate a once-grand but badly faded Victorian on B Street ? the Runyon-Metzger house ? that had been in Barbara?s family for three generations.

The restoration was a labor of love. The Konicek?s son, Santa Rosa attorney Kevin Konicek, said, ?That house could not have gotten done without (longtime builder) Dick Colombini and his friendship with my Dad.?

Tom and Barbara moved into house in 1986. For the next 15 years, Tom Konicek joyfully maintained the gardens and eagerly answered the questions of visitors who sometimes arrived in the historic B Street district by the busload.

In 2000, Tom Konicek began showing signs of Alzheimer?s disease. He lived for several years at Primrose Alzheimer?s Living and was at Friends House when he died July 3.

McLaurin said his friend lived an extraordinary life. ?Though we haven?t had Tom the last few years, it?s hard to realize that we won?t have him at all,? he said.

In addition to his wife and son in Santa Rosa, Konicek is survived by daughters Patti Dietzen and Barbara Beatie, both of Santa Rosa, and four grandchildren.

His life will be celebrated at a reception at the Wild Oak Saddle Club from 4 to 6 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 1.

Konicek?s family suggests memorial donations to St. Eugene?s Cathedral, 2323 Montgomery Drive, Santa Rosa 95405 or to Catholic Charities, P.O. Box 4900, Santa Rosa, CA 95402.