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‘Rocky’ Harris, a west Sonoma County builder famed for his trout pond and parties, dies at 70

Sometimes when west Sonoma County homebuilder Ronald “Rocky” Harris was out and about, a young man or woman would approach, say something akin to, “You don’t remember me, but …,” and then thank Harris for a treasured childhood experience at his private trout pond.

“He would get that everywhere we go,” said Harris’ partner in business and in life, real estate agent Ann Harris. She specifically recalled a man of about 35 stepping up at Healdsburg Bar & Grill to tell her husband that when he was a bored and lonely 9-year-old, it was huge for Rocky Harris to stop what he was doing, take him to the pond and show him how to fish.

The supremely sociable Harris was a former boxer and rock musician who built dozens of high-end homes in Sonoma County, threw legendary Super Bowl parties and found joy in treating others to Lake Shasta getaways on his family’s houseboat and at its second home near Palm Springs.

He died Jan. 6 from complications of melanoma. He was 70.

Among the many kids Harris welcomed to the stocked trout pond near his family’s west county home were Carson and Kelsey Pforsich. Their father, career Sonoma County firefighter Andy Pforsich, said moments at the pond set the foundation for an abiding friendship between his son and Rocky Harris.

Harris savored watching Carson play football for Analy High School. In the fall of 2017, Carson, then 17, was partially paralyzed upon diving into Bodega Bay and striking his head with such force that the impact badly injured his neck and spinal cord.

Harris rallied for him, came to see him as often as daily and cheered the progressive degrees of recovery he achieved through diligent workouts and also stem cell treatments administered in Thailand.

“Carson truly was a hero to Rocky,” Andy Pforsich said. At Harris’ request, his family is requesting memorial donations to Carson’s rehabilitation fund.

Ronald James Harris was born Sept. 29, 1950, to Paul and Louise Harris, who worked a Petaluma chicken ranch. The child’s dad nicknamed him Rocky, for pugilist Rocky Marciano, because he came into the world with the nose of a boxer.

Being called Rocky helped to inspire young Harris to train and a compete as a boxer. Starting at age 10, he’d jump rope for 30 minutes every day. He boxed all through high school and on to age 22.

Following graduation from Petaluma High, Harris enrolled at Santa Rosa Junior College. But it wasn’t for him. College, he’d say, was “too much work and no paycheck.”

So after about only three weeks, he withdrew from SRJC and went to work in construction. Soon, he was a fast, precise and sought-after framer, a carpenter who specializes in constructing the skeletons of wooden homes and leaving the finishing work to others.

Harris was 29 when a friend introduced him to an ambitious, 22-year-old real estate agent named Ann C. Chapnick. They clicked in a big way, personally and professionally. Two years later, Harris built his first house on speculation. Chapnick dressed its interior, then sold it.

The two of them married in 1983. Through their nearly four decades together, they would rear a family, construct and sell 56 fine, spec houses and become known throughout greater Sebastopol as go-getters who knew how to throw a party.

Ann Harris said that when, in 1984, she and her husband purchased rural property outside of Sebastopol and prepared to build their home, Rocky knew that he would create nearby a trout pond.

“He loved children and he wanted a place where he could have kids over to fish,” she said.

Boxing presented Rocky Harris another opportunity to shine attention on, mentor and encourage young people.

After he and his wife bought a fixer-upper second home in Southern California’s Coachella Valley, he was introduced to a boxing program in nearby Indio that works to bring structure and focus to the lives of kids 8 to 11 who might otherwise find their way into trouble. Harris eagerly accepted an invitation to come engage with the youngsters.

The greatest beneficiaries of his love of children and of experiences shared with other human beings were his own kids, Ben and Natalie.

“I certainly felt like I was in the center of his universe,” said Natalie Harris, who lives now in San Diego. She said her father was at his essence a simple, loud, proudly Irish fellow who found bliss in bringing people together.

“He really felt at home when he was with people, surrounded by people,” she said. She told of observing that he built and sold nice houses in order to see them become homes and gathering places for families.

“He was a little cheeky and playful as well, always in a kind, compassionate way,” Natalie Harris said.

“He hugged with his heart.”

Upon a diagnosis of melanoma in 2012, Rocky Harris eased up on driving nails and relied more on his Harris Builders crew. He was in the midst of a second battle with the cancer, one complicated by the COVID-19 crisis, when he died Jan. 6.

In addition to his wife in Sebastopol and his daughter in San Diego, he is survived by his son, Ben Harris of Santa Rosa; and his brothers, Bob Harris of Sebastopol, Bill Harris of Redding and John Harris of Eagle Point, Oregon.

Rocky Harris’ family plans to host a celebration of his life once it is again safe for people to gather.

“He loved parties and he loved parties with live music,” Ann Harris said. “We’ll have something big for him.”

The family suggests memorial donations to the Carson Pforsich Rehab Fund at any branch of Exchange Bank.

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

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