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Claudia Gonnella Ricci

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.

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