Nello Bassignani, who grew up in one of early Santa Rosa's Italian vegetable-farming families and cultivated himself into the town's friendliest and best-dressed butcher, died in his sleep Monday night or Tuesday morning.
Just seven weeks ago, he and many friends and members of his large family celebrated his 100th birthday in grand fashion.
Only a few people closest to him knew that he was diagnosed with heart disease about 18 months ago. Born to be a bartender, he volunteered to pour at back-to-back events last Saturday and Sunday nights at the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building.
"That was his home away from home," said his daughter, Sandra Bassignani.
She said a few people in attendance at the weekend celebrations remarked that he didn't seem his nimble and effervescent self. But he didn't utter a word of complaint, and back at his longtime home near Memorial Hospital on Monday he took the day slowly.
His granddaughter and live-in assistant, Vikki Ramponi, said that when she found him in his bed Tuesday morning he looked completely at peace.
"He went his way," she said. "He did it on his terms; he really did."
Bassignani's death may mean the end to the Drum and Bugle Corps of Santa Rosa's Theodore Roosevelt Post 21 of the American Legion. Though he wasn't a military veteran — he was too young to serve in World War I and by WWII had a wife and family — he served as the dwindling musical group's drum major.
"He kept it all together," said longtime friend and fellow Drum & Bugle Corps member Roy Memeo. "I don't know of anybody who would take it over."
Also questionable is whether, without him, the Santa Rosa old-timers who called themselves the West Third Street Gang will continue to meet for lunch at Sam's For Play cafe on the second Friday of each month.