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.