Ralph DeMarco was a pianist, a baseball player, a World War II combat veteran, a salesman, a family man, a gardener and, for more than 70 years, one of the happiest guys in Santa Rosa.

The 1944 graduate of Santa Rosa High School was fighting for his life in a hospital bed last weekend when his lifelong sweetheart, Joanne DeMarco, placed her cheek against his.

“I must have kissed him 100 times,” she said. “I said, ‘Take God’s hand, honey, you’ve fought long enough.’ ”

Soon, her husband of 65 years let go. A celebration of his full and jubilant life will be Friday afternoon at Santa Rosa Memorial Park.

Eighty-eight years old when he died Sunday, Ralph Joseph DeMarco was born in New York City and all through his childhood on Staten Island was enthralled with music and baseball. He studied piano at Carnegie Hall for two years before applying himself more single-mindedly to fielding and hitting balls.

DeMarco was 15 when his family moved west to Sonoma County. He earned MVP honors on the varsity baseball team at Santa Rosa High.

Soon after graduation, he joined the Army and the fight in the Pacific. Upon his honorable discharge after the war, he returned to Santa Rosa, took what work he could find and resumed playing baseball, semi-pro and professional.

He was a nimble infielder for the Santa Rosa Rosebuds, then a farm team for the Pittsburgh Pirates. But baseball lost its pull on him as he fell deeper in love with the former Joanne Maddox.

“He just caught me and he wouldn’t let me go,” she said. “And I thank God for that.”

They married in Santa Rosa late in 1948. DeMarco later told local history author Lee Torliatt, “I played baseball because I loved the game, but after I got married I decided I loved my wife and kid more, and we needed to be together on weekends.”

So much for his shot at a sports career. He went to work for The Press Democrat, delivering bundles of newspapers to carriers as far away as the Mendocino Coast.

From the circulation department, DeMarco moved to advertising. He found he loved working with business owners and creating ads for the paper.

He subsequently did that same sort of work for the former Montgomery Village News and Sebastopol Times. Prior to his retirement in 1992, he also worked for a time handling advertising for the Santa Rosa Shoe Co.

Since he stopped working, DeMarco’s family and his garden were the focus of his life. His wife said that when his kidneys failed two years ago, he opted not to undergo dialysis but to spend whatever time he had with her and his three daughters and their children, and with his redwoods and flowers.

“Eighty-eight years is a long, wonderful time and he didn’t want to go,” Joanne DeMarco said. “He fought it to the end.”

In addition to his wife in Santa Rosa, DeMarco is survived by daughters Shelly Schofield and Charlene DeMarco, both of Santa Rosa, and Brenda Carley of Novato; his brother, Francis DeMarco of Bakersfield; six grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

Military honors will be part of the graveside services at 3 p.m. today at Santa Rosa Memorial Park.