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Chris Smith: A piece of the storied USS Constitution lives on after Santa Rosa fire

The former Cricklewood restaurant on Old Redwood Highway.

CHRIS SMITH, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The river of fire that roared through the Larkfield area north of Santa Rosa took Ken Moholt-Siebert’s home and most everything in it, and the lives of dear neighbors Leroy and Donna Halbur.

The pinot vineyards that produce estate fruit for Ancient Oak Cellars, the winery Ken operates with his wife, Melissa, aren’t looking good.

But what’s this in the envelope he found in his car?

It’s a wooden peg, or treenail, that once did its part to hold together the hull of the warship USS Constitution — Old Ironsides.

The tiny piece of history was handed down from Ken’s great-grandfather, noted architect Victor Siebert. The story was that Victor went to Massachusetts to study at MIT and in 1907 contributed some money to a restoration of the USS Constitution, which had been launched in 1797.

As thanks for his gift, Victor received what was purported to be one of the famous ship’s original 150,000 or so pegs.

A bit over two weeks ago, Ken took the artifact to a meeting of the Santa Rosa East Rotary Club because fellow Rotarian Dan Drummond had just visited Boston and savored a tour of Old Ironsides, the world’s oldest commissioned warship.

When Ken returned home from the Rotary meeting, he should have carried the treenail back into the house and put it where it belonged. When he found it in the car that carried him quickly from the fire, he smiled in gratitude for that instant of negligence.

THE DIVAS of Fountaingrove toasted at Sharon Wright’s home the other day, to survival and friendship.

Sharon, the longtime community leader and former Santa Rosa mayor and City Council member, hosted a luncheon for the nine women who for years worked out together with trainer Alan Ramos three times a week at the Fountaingrove Golf & Athletic Club.

Of the 10 of them, eight lost their homes to the fire. But all lived.

The most overtly thankful Diva at Wright’s table was Shirley Ward. The retired Bank of America exec was asleep early the morning of Oct. 9 when neighbor and fellow Diva Laura Clelland and her daughter, Elle, came banging and screaming at the front door.

Shirley feels certain that had the Clellands not done that, she and her husband, Bill, would have died that morning in their home on Hanover Place, across the street from SSU President Judy Sakaki. The homes of the Wards and the Clellands and of Sakaki and her husband, Patrick McCallum, all were destroyed.

One day, Shirley will recount how Laura Clelland told her, “I would not have left without you,” and not cry.

CRICKLEWOOD II or another restaurant may welcome diners one day onto the hallowed meet-and-eat spot on Old Redwood Highway just north of Santa Rosa. At present it is occupied by a heap of memory-infused char.

Michael and Lynette O’Brien not only ran the cozy Cricklewood for 42 years, they lived upstairs. They escaped with little.

Might they seek to create a new Cricklewood there? Michael replied, “At the moment it’s just too close.”

He and Lynette are off to San Diego to stay near family, rest and ponder the future.

The Cricklewood property has long been owned by kin of the late Mary and Rico Venturi, who operated an Italian restaurant there, Marico’s, from 1947 until 1965.

The Venturis’ daughter-in-law, Evelyn “Jane” Venturi, now the property’s principal owner, lost the restaurant building and also her longtime home a few blocks away. The Coffey Park home of one of Jane’s daughters, Teresa Hentz, burned, too.

Teresa, who’s married to Paul Hentz, known in aviation circles as a former aircraft mechanic for the REACH air-ambulance service, says the family plan is to rebuild both houses and the restaurant that was Cricklewood.

THE PONY EXPRESS can’t get back into Howarth Park to give rides right now, but director Linda Aldrich suspects many kids and adults could use a little face time with her horses and ponies.

She’d also like to celebrate the survival of her ranch and home at 6413 Sonoma Highway, across from Oakmont. So from 1 to 4 p.m. today Linda and her young helpers will welcome visitors onto the ranch to hang out with and groom and enjoy the animals.

They’re calling it An Afternoon of Healing with Horses.

WISHING AND HOPING for a more peaceful and unified community and world will get us only so far.

It takes intentional, sustained effort to dissolve the barriers that divide us and also the root causes of violence. Rare are people like Santa Rosa’s Arnie and Phyllis Rosenfield, who’ve spent much of their lives standing up for the vulnerable and creating practical opportunities for people to meet and move beyond the temptation or need to cause each other harm.

On Friday, Arnie, a semi-retired Superior Court judge, and Phyllis, founder of the oral history project Listening for a Change, received the 2017 Peace Awards from the Santa Rosa-based MOVES, Minimizing Occurrences of Violence in Everyday Society.

Both Arnie and Phyllis have done, and still do, so much. For an inkling, visit online MOVES and Listening for a Change.

THE TWO ATTORNEYS honored at Friday night’s Careers of Distinction banquet by the Sonoma County Bar Association have made parallel careers of volunteer service.

Bill Carle has provided leadership to the Santa Rosa School Board for 20 years and has his fingerprints on significant community endeavors across the county.

Beneficiaries of Pat Grattan’s decades of service include Canine Companions for Independence, the Girl Scouts Council, Leadership Santa Rosa and the Coalition to Restore Courthouse Square.

For the record, there was no element of consolation to their being chosen for as this year’s Careers of Distinction honorees. They were picked long before both lost their homes to the flames.

ALEX STONE, the natural-born broadcaster who chased stories for KSRO while still a kid and now is a globe-trotting correspondent for ABC News Radio, was all over the fires that bedeviled the Montgomery High alum’s hometown.

Amid his reporting, Alex made time to check on the homes of many of the people he’s close to, most notably that of his traveling parents, Barbara and Stu Stone.

This weekend, Alex is back in So Cal and getting reacquainted with his wife and kids — at Disneyland.

You can reach Staff Writer Chris Smith at 707-521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.