A turning point in Henry Trione's life came as he sat for three hours on a park bench in San Francisco, contemplating his future after World War II.
It was 1946 and despite the jubilation of defeating Germany and Japan, there was gloom over the United States. Many thought the nation would slip back into the depression of the 1930s, and Trione, 26, the son of a Humboldt County baker, considered whether his Navy lieutenant's rank held the key to economic security.
Fifty-five miles north over the new but little-used Golden Gate Bridge lay Santa Rosa, a community of ranchers and merchants that had grown by the equivalent of several dozen families a year since the turn of the century.
Trione and the city he helped shape in the postwar boom, enriching both the man and the place, would soon be united by the decision he reached that day to leave active Navy duty for his real calling.
"I was oriented to private enterprise," Trione said at his hillside Santa Rosa home with a commanding view of the Oakmont subdivision and the Valley of the Moon below.
Casually dressed in an open-collared shirt and slacks, Trione, 91, points out the home's all-redwood interior and massive stone hearth made of cobblestone from adjacent Annadel State Park.
A short, stocky man with a patrician nose, Trione speaks softly but succinctly, sizing up questions and recalling details, except for some dates, in short answers.
Trione referred to his triple-bypass coronary artery surgery 15 years ago and a recent aortic-valve replacement. An avid polo player for 35 years, Trione now gets most of his exercise by walking.
An entrepreneur, philanthropist, horseman and great-grandfather, Trione is the last of the power brokers who transformed Santa Rosa from a town where ranchers drove cattle through the streets into a regional center of trade, finance, education and entertainment.
He was honored Tuesday at an event reflecting Trione's multifaceted achievements: celebrating the 50th anniversary of Empire College, which he founded, with a keynote speech by the head of Wells Fargo Bank, which Trione helped grow, held at Wells Fargo Center for the Arts, which he helped create.
Trione, who made fortunes in finance, real estate, lumber and wine with a seemingly infallible business sense, has given back millions to major institutions and countless nonprofit organizations.
But modesty is a Trione trademark.
"I don't do anything," he said during a lengthy conversation.
You made things happen, an interviewer said.
"Somehow," Trione replied.
His manners are from "a bygone era when modesty and humility better served a man's interests," said Doug Bosco, a former Democratic congressman who calls Republican Trione a friend. "An era when people were gentlemen."
Shaping postwar Santa Rosa
Arriving in Sonoma County in 1948, Trione quickly joined a cadre of leaders — including bankers Jim Keegan and Charles Reinking, savings-and-loan executive J. Ralph Stone and lumber company owner Elie Destruel — who charted Santa Rosa's postwar course.
In the 1950s alone, Santa Rosa gained more than 13,000 new residents, more than it had in the previous 50 years.
The city grew by 73 percent in the '50s, twice the average rate of the 20th century's 10 decades, as prune and walnut orchards were churned into subdivisions and shopping centers by Trione and other leaders of that generation.