Sonoma County sons, daughters claim their roots

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What started out as an idea for a modest gift for new moms has exploded into a native Sonoma County pride movement.

Shaun Ralston, the regional marketing and communications manager for Sutter Health, was unprepared for the avalanche of responses to his online call for "Sonoma County Babies."

He was hoping to reel in a few folks who were born here and have deep roots in Sonoma soil. His idea was to gather a few of their family stories in a small book that could be presented to moms giving birth at Sutter's new hospital when it opens next year.

Then it exploded.

So far, 1,749 people have registered at SonomaCountyBaby.com and a Facebook page has 561 "likes." People are sharing stories and family photos and even reconnecting with old neighbors and distant kin in a digital gathering of Sonoma County native sons and daughters.

Old wine and ag families, the descendents of public officials, pioneers, doctors, lawyers, and even a few celebrities, including actresses Winona Ryder from Petaluma and Karen Valentine from Sebastopol, have registered as Sonoma County Babies. There are seniors, millennials and mid-lifers proudly declaring when and where they were born, some down to the hospital, or in one case, the parking lot.

They are drawn toward pride in their place, a geographically rich 1,500 square miles. As one respondent wrote, "Sonoma County rocks!"

Everyone who registers is sent either a pink or blue "Sonoma County Baby" wristband. Ralston said information won't be used for anything but the book.

"It's morphed into a monster, but a very nice monster," he said of the fledgling project launched four months ago. "We wanted a way to memorialize our old history and the history of Sonoma County to our new moms, the next generation of moms in our next generation hospital. But it's turned into a lot more than that."

Pete Foppiano, 59, said he became a Sonoma County Baby 59 years ago, making his entrance at the old Healdsburg General Hospital at Lincoln and Johnson streets.

"My grandfather came over in time for the San Francisco earthquake, went north, and never set foot in San Francisco again," said Foppiano, who is not directly related to the Foppiano wine family but who shares with them a common ancestor. And yet his late father, August, was cellarmaster for 40 years at Foppiano Winery, which speaks to the six degrees of separation between so many of the region's old families and even newer comers.

"It's really interesting because the Facebook page is getting this traction of people interacting with each other," said Ralston. "They're almost getting reintroduced to their native kin. There seems to be this deep bond with people who have their heritage and their legacy within this area."

He explained he was inspired after learning that Sonoma County has a high rate of natives who leave and yet return.

Shari Day Moore of Rohnert Park, with various family lines going back four and five generations, saw a tease for the project on Facebook and signed up. Unbeknownst to her, dad Jerry Day also signed up.

"We have community pride, all of us in our family," said Moore, 47. She and her mom are both Montgomery High School grads. Three grandparents were born here. Her maternal grandfather, Phil Wilson, owned land that is now Hood Mountain Regional Park.

Moore became a hairdresser and moved to Los Angeles. But she soon felt out of place in the culture and wanted to come home.

"I didn't know anybody. It was faster. It was fueled by different things," said Moore, whose friends frequently refer to her as Miss Sonoma County because of her deep knowledge of the area and many connection.

"I think I've missed the Rose Parade twice in 10 years," she added.

Renea Magnani, 43, is a lifelong Sonoman, born at Sonoma Valley Hospital. Her mom was born in Sonoma's old hospital at what is now Bartholomew Park Winery. Her father's family goes back several generations in Schellville, in the Carneros region south of Sonoma.

"It's pretty great here. I'm the only child of a single mother. I had a big family here and pretty much had what I needed," said Magnani, whose two daughters were born in Santa Rosa. "I just didn't need to move anywhere else."

Ralston said an editorial board will pour through the submissions and select stories to research further. Not all will make it into the book, but he's begun a newsletter and people continue to share stories and photos on Facebook.

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com or 521-5204.

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