Donald Raymond Zanolini, a local businessman and lifelong Santa Rosa resident who as a youth coach shared his love and knowledge of sports with many young athletes, died Nov. 9 after recently being diagnosed with colon cancer. He was 79.
About 16 years ago, Zanolini suffered a serious episode of pancreatitis that slowed him down in his later years. But most of his life, "Bud," as he was affectionately known, was a lion of a man.
Zanolini was born in Santa Rosa and grew up near on Hendley Street near the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.
The youngest in his family, Zanolini often worked with his father bundling hops and picking prunes in former orchards now long developed. He picked prunes in the orchards that once covered the Grace Tract neighborhood, picked hops out on West Side Road and even helped his father sell sand they used to dig out of Santa Rosa Creek.
Zanolini attended the former Lincoln Elementary School and then Santa Rosa High School, graduating in 1952. He then attended Santa Rosa Junior College for one year and played as an offensive lineman for the school's football team.
That led him to join the semi-pro Petaluma Leghorns. He also was a catcher for the Santa Rosa Rosebuds semi-pro baseball team under Pete Magrini Sr.
Zanolini loved sports and for a period of about 12 years between 1967 and 1979 he coached Little League baseball and Pop Warner football. It started when his son Dino started playing Little League.
Dino remembers one year when he moved onto the Babe Ruth League he wound up playing in a playoffs game against Zanolini's team. Dino said his team lost and he still remembers seeing his father on the field celebrating the win with a host of jubilant kids all around him.
"They were so excited to win that playoff game," said Dino.
"That was the first time I realized that you're sharing your dad with the rest of the world," he said, adding that his father helped many local kids grow into the men they later became.
Zanolini worked in the distribution business for many years, first for Clover Dairy and later for Hostess Cakes. He delivered for Hostess for more than 20 years.
He married his wife of 58 years Kay in 1954 at Federated Church in Healdsburg. The couple together started their own distribution business, Zanolini Distributing, in 1978 and he operated the business for 33 years before retiring in the beginning of 2011.
Zanolini would buy and sell food products primarily from Oscar Mayer, Ball Park hot dogs, Sonoma Jack Cheese, Gallo Salame, and other packed lunch meats and cheeses. After his bout with pancreatitis, he turned over most operations of his business to Dino, though he still went to work every day as the "heart and soul" of the business, Dino said.
"The biggest thing I'd say about my dad was that his motto was, &‘always think positive.' That served him well, certainly for growing his business, and it served him well battling pancreatitis,"he said.
Zanolini loved playing Black Jack, bowling and softball and diving for abalone. He was a member of the Italian-American Club and the Santa Rosa Druids No. 121. He also enjoyed traveling and hosting bus trips to Reno.