Harold Genazzi, 1921 – 2010

10/14/2010

Point Reyes dairyman Harold Genazzi passed away on August 21, next door to the house he was born in 89 years ago. Harold was a reserved, conservative man that didn’t leave West Marin for the majority of his life. Close friends and family knew him as a loving husband and father, a self-educated technical genius and armchair scholar. He stayed connected to the outside world through his homemade ham radios, a hobby he held from childhood. 

“Harold was a very intelligent man. When it came to intelligence, he was tops,” said his wife, May. “He was so worldly. At coffee hour at the Pine Cone he would preach to the other ranchers. And I don’t mean religion—I mean knowledge.”

Harold was born to Fred and Erminia Genazzi on June 30, 1921. Erminia was born in West Marin, and had a son from her previous marriage to Silvio Codoni. Fred immigrated from Maggia, Switzerland in 1896 at age 14. They married and bought the Riverside Ranch in Point Reyes Station in 1917.

Harold grew up with his brother, Buddy, and sisters Helen and Evelyn. He was a hard worker, obedient son and always knew he would one day take over the family farm. The Genazzis, like many farmers in Marin, did not starve during the Great Depression, despite the misery just miles away.

He attended West Marin School, where he was considered an exceptionally bright student. “Harold loved school. He was interested in anything and everything,” May said. “He would have been a good school teacher. He should have been a teacher.”

Fred Genazzi was a talented accordion player, and entertained the family with long evening concerts. Harold tried taking accordion lessons, but found he didn’t like playing the instrument.

Despite his great sense of duty to his family and farm, Harold needed a way to discover the outside world. This came in the form of a cheap ham radio kit given to him by Charlie Riley, the local fire chief. Harold quickly learned Morse Code, and began having conversations with other radio operators up and down the coast. The radio opened up an entire subculture of tinkerers and personalities from all walks of life, and ham remained Harold’s passion for the next 75 years.

“His first love was the ranch, the second was ham radio,” said his friend Dick Flint of Inverness. “His wife and kids figure in there somewhere, too.” Harold graduated from Morse to vocal communication, and regularly talked to people from all over the world. He developed close friendships with other radio operators in Oregon, Washington and southern California.

“After milking cows, he’d take his nap and then be on the radio. All you had to do was contact him,” said his nephew Fred Gilardi. Every night operators from across the world could tune into Harold’s handle frequency, WA6-EGC (Whiskey-Alpha-Six, Echo-Golf-Charlie).

Harold’s love of ham drove him to build his own radios. At the time of his death, he operated a large high-powered amplifier with a rotating antenna tower that could pick up signals from continents away. Part of the ham subculture is to exchange postcards with the operator’s name, location and frequency. These he collected, and proudly showed to his friends, children and grandchildren.

During the disastrous flood in 1982, Harold, along with a group of other ham operators, used his radio to relay emergency communications to law enforcement. “It was the only communication we had. The road to Inverness was closed for at least two weeks,” Fred said. “And this was while he was losing cattle from the flood as well.”

Harold was popular in high school. Girls were attracted to his tall build and dark hair, and classmates envied him for his prowess at baseball. “He was a handsome young man and had a lot of friends. They loved going hunting and fishing,” said his sister Evelyn. “He was a great brother. I miss him.” Harold continued to play amateur baseball for the Nicasio team until he was 36.

After graduating, Harold set to the lifelong task of maintaining a dairy farm. He met a pretty 17-year-old girl from Marshall named May, whom he met through mutual friends. May was the runner-up Western Weekend queen that year. “During the parade he ran up and lassoed my mom,” said his daughter Debbie. They got married in 1952 in the Reno, Nevada courthouse, and held the reception at the Forester’s Hall in Point Reyes. Most of the town showed up.

It wasn’t long before the couple had five children. “He was a wonderful father. All my friends were envious of my relationship with Dad,” Debbie said. “He wasn’t just my dad. He was one of my best friends. I feel like I’ve lost a part of me. It’s hard not picking up to talk to him—he was my Superdad.” When his children were old enough, Harold taught electronics and dairy farming at the local 4-H. May taught cooking.

Harold’s interests never stopped growing. He always loved to tinker, and one year built his own television from scratch. This he guarded with a children’s playpen, to keep the kids away from the open circuitry. He was a voracious reader, and collected books on history, mathematics, agriculture and science.

Harold watched his children grow up with pride, and was fortunate to have seven grandchildren. “He was a doting grandfather. He went to all the kids’ football games,” Debbie said. Harold, who had a perennial sweet tooth, would exact a chocolate bar from each of his grandchildren when they came to visit. Ever the tinkerer, Harold made numerous gifts for his progeny, like walkie-talkies, cuckoo clocks and swing sets.

After he retired, Harold and May decided to see more of the world. They went on several cruises to Europe, Australia, Alaska and Canada. They bought a mobile home and toured the continental United States together. They even visited some of his decades-old ham radio friends face-to-face. 

 

Harold is survived by his wife, May; sister Evelyn; children Daniel, Debbie and Ellie; grandchildren Nathan, Jason, Randy, Brendon, Riley, Freddie and Ellie. In lieu of flowers the family prefers memorial contributions be made to the Helping Hands at Sacred Heart Church or to Hospice of Petaluma, 416 Payran Street, Petaluma, CA.