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For decades during Sonoma County's golden era of livestock ranching, Occidental native Claudia Gonnella Ricci, 89, helped her husband Louis Ricci run their Santa Rosa livestock auction business.

Ricci died Sunday of congestive heart failure at her Santa Rosa home, with family by her side.

Claudia and Louis Ricci were married 69 years. They ran their business, Santa Rosa Livestock Auction Yard, for almost four decades and were fixtures in the county's agricultural community.

Ricci lived her entire life in Sonoma County. She was raised in Occidental, the seventh of 12 children born to John Gonnella and Leontina Donati Gonnella, immigrants from Tuscany, Italy.

Claudia Ricci's family has expansive Sonoma County roots. She and her husband were related to what seemed like most of Sonoma County's Italian families.

If not related, then friends, said her daughter, Jackie Tucker of Penngrove. "She had a wonderful life," she said.

Tucker described her mother as "quiet and shy. Very unpretentious. She liked the simple things."

During World War II Claudia Gonnella moved across the county to Sonoma to live with an older sister. The young woman began working as a clerk at the old Friberg's Drug Store on Broadway.

One day Louis Ricci came in for ice cream. The Gonnella and Ricci families knew each other because the Riccis lived on Coleman Valley Road near Occidental, said Tucker.

"It was a Sunday afternoon, and I went in to get a banana split ... That was in January, and we were married in May," Louis Ricci said in a Press Democrat newspaper article in 1997.

The couple first lived on a Sonoma dairy on Duhig Road, then in Kenwood for years where they raised their two daughters. They later moved to Santa Rosa.

With Louis Ricci's cattle background, they started the auction yard.

They worked Side-by- side for 36 years. She kept the books and recorded the sales prices and buyer information on what often was hundreds of cows, sheep, hogs and horses that passed through the auction yard each Tuesday.

She also helped her husband, who for decades volunteered as auctioneer at the Sonoma County Fair.

At home, she was known for her love of cooking and baking. "She was a great cook. She taught the next generation how to make traditional raviolis and Italian foods," said Tucker.

Since Ricci's death, neighbors have come by with sympathy cards. "They're all mentioning her Christmas cookie trays. They were famous in this neighborhood," Tucker said.

Claudia Ricci loved family gatherings and enjoyed many trips to Reno with her brothers and sisters. She was a member of the Sonoma-Marin Cattle Women's Association.

She is survived by her husband, Louis Ricci of Santa Rosa, daughters Jackie Tucker Penngrove and Sharon Neidlinger of Redding, sisters Daria Calvi of Occidental and June Rossini of Santa Rosa, four grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, three step grandchildren and five step great-grandchildren.

A funeral liturgy service will be at 10 a.m. Friday at Lafferty & Smith Colonial Chapel in Santa Rosa. Interment will be private. Visitation will be from 5-8 p.m. Thursday at Lafferty & Smith.

Memorial contributions may be made to Sutter Care at Home, 1110 No. Dutton Ave., Santa Rosa, CA 95401.

— Randi Rossmann