Charles “Peach” Rippey and his wife, Sara, fell in love in grade school in Wisconsin and were together ever since.
The devoted couple stayed together even in their final moments, dying inside their home in east Napa as the ferocious Atlas fire blew out the windows and collapsed the roof.
Charles, whose mother called him “Peach” because of his rosy cheeks, celebrated his 100th birthday at the ranch-style home in July. Sara celebrated her 98th birthday in May.
“She pretty much ran the whole show,” said their oldest son, Michael Rippey of Napa. “His secret to marriage was that when you’re wrong, you’re wrong, and when you’re right, you’re wrong.”
Hometown sweethearts, they married in 1942 after graduating from the University of Wisconsin, Charles with an engineering degree. He set off for Europe as a captain in the U.S. Army engineering corps. He served in North Africa, Italy, France and Germany.
After the war, the couple raised a family of five. Charles went to work for Firestone Tire and Rubber Co., in Akron, Ohio, going on to serve as president of three divisions.
“My father had quite a bit of success in his life,” Michael Rippey said. “He was very capable, but without my mother, I don’t know if he would have done what he did.”
After retirement, the couple moved to California to be closer to their children, Michael Rippey purchased the house at Atlas Peak Road and Westgate Drive 30 years ago for his parents. The couple put in a small pool in back and enjoyed playing tennis, golf and entertaining family and friends, including winery folks such as Peter Mondavi.
“They were great conversationalists and just fun to be with,” Rippey said. “They didn’t have any airs.”
Every time Rippey went to visit his parents, he brought a bottle of Champagne. “My dad always said the secret to his longevity was drinking a half bottle of Champagne every day,” Rippey said. “He wasn’t that picky, but he didn’t like the cheap stuff.”
The Rippeys’ home was adjacent to the Silverado Country Club’s golf course, where the Safeway PGA Tour had just wrapped up the day before the Atlas fire erupted south of Lake Berryessa.
The wind-driven firestorm started at 10 p.m. Oct. 8 and swept through the neighborhood. Michael Rippey, who was preparing to return home from London, stayed in touch with family members by phone.
His parents’ caregiver, Maria Sandoval, had called his younger brother at 10:19 p.m. to report there was fire at the back fence. In the next 11 minutes, she was able to use a mechanical lift to get Sara, who was paralyzed from a stroke, out of bed and into a wheelchair. The next day, the coroner found her remains in the wheelchair and Charles’ remains in a hallway, halfway between his room and Sara’s room.
Sandoval was able to escape through a sliding glass door, but by the time she returned at 10:30 p.m. with help, the roof had collapsed.
“The real blessing of the whole thing is that Maria got out,” Michael Rippey said. “It was a miracle.”
In early December, the family held a memorial service for the couple at St. Appolinaire’s Catholic Church, followed by burial at Tulocay Cemetery in Napa.
The Press Democrat remembers the 40 lives lost in the North Bay fires. Click here for more of the stories.