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Santa Rosa woman who savored dark chocolate and golf dies at 107

Rose Gaspari was remembered by family as a strong woman who was healthy, independent and passionate. She died in her sleep on July 23 at the Arbol Residences of Santa Rosa, an assisted living facility. She was 107.

“She was a very strong, caring person and very strong-willed,” said her nephew, Rodney Palmieri. “She was sort of like my second mother.”

Gaspari had driven her Volkswagen camper to a California Department of Motor Vehicles location at age 100. “Well I’m 100 years old and I probably shouldn’t be driving anymore, right?,” Gaspari asked a department worker, Palmieri said.

The person took her license, but let her drive home because she seemed capable.

“That was just kind of how she was,” Palmieri said.

Gaspari was born June 22, 1914, in Navarro. When she was 8 her mom died, and the family moved back to their native Italy.

After three years in Italy, Gaspari and her sister wanted to return to the United States. Their father agreed and arranged for the two to come back to Navarro and live with family friends.

Although Gaspari had finished elementary school in Italy, she attended Navarro Elementary School. Later in life, she went to the former Sweet’s Business College in Santa Rosa and obtained a nursing degree, eventually working at Green’s Eye Hospital and St. John’s Hospital in San Francisco, relatives said.

She fell in love with John E. Gaspari and married him in Santa Rosa in 1936. They moved to San Francisco when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

The couple returned to Santa Rosa after he completed his military service. She got a job at a doctor’s practice. Later, she opened and ran a Maico Hearing Aid office for several years.

The couple enjoyed traveling and playing golf at Santa Rosa Golf & Country Club, Palmieri said.

Brent Stromgeren, membership director at the country club, said Gasperi and her husband joined in 1936.

Her husband, John, became the club president in 1957. He preceded her in death in 1999.

Rose was a lifetime member. After she outlived many older members, she became the oldest club member about seven years ago.

Once she got too old to play golf, she played bridge weekly with women at the country club until the pandemic began.

She was “always very nice, always friendly with staff and other members,” Stromgeren said. “We’re gonna miss her a ton, that’s for sure.”

Mushroom hunting was another of Gaspari’s passions.

Her nephew recalled when Gaspari was 93, he took her and his mother to Cazadero to go mushroom hunting.

“As soon as we got there, the doors flew out and my mother and my aunt jumped out of the car like they were teenagers and ran up the hill, looking for mushrooms,” he said.

Gaspari and her sister would dry the mushrooms at home.

“Our house would smell like dried mushrooms all month, but she was so passionate about it,” Palmieri said.

Gaspari loved dark chocolate, even more than golfing and mushroom hunting.

“She would savor it like an oenophile likes wine,” Palmieri said. “She would just sit there and let it melt in her mouth. There was no talking to her. That was her time.”

He said everyone that knew Gaspari well would gift her dark chocolate. She claimed to eat only one piece a day.

“She was as healthy as a horse,“ besides glaucoma and knee pain, Palmieri said.

She enjoyed her independence and lived at home alone until she was 106-and-a-half and reluctantly agreed to move to the Arbol Residences of Santa Rosa.

Gaspari also was an avid reader of The Press Democrat, Palmieri said.

Every morning, she wouldn’t get out of bed until she read the entire newspaper, Palmieri said.

“I think it was her way into the outside and her community because all her friends had passed away at that point,” Palmieri said.

Phyllis Scott Palmieri, Rodney Palmieri’s wife, said she remembered Gaspari as someone who was always involved in the community, had lots of friends and enjoyed volunteering.

“We loved her so much and it’s hard to say goodbye,” Phyllis Scott Palmieri said. “But it was time and she just went to sleep.”

A memorial mass will be held in her honor at St. Rose Catholic Church in Santa Rosa on Sept.10 at 10 a.m.

You can reach Staff Writer Alana Minkler at 707-521-5224 or alana.minkler@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @alana_minkler.

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