Butch Giammona, 1941 — 2020

08/05/2020

Ciro “Butch” Giammona, a lifelong Point Reyes Station family man and walking archive of the town’s septic systems, died at home on July 12. He was 79 years old. 

A fixture of old West Marin, Butch “saw this town convert from what you’d call a one-horse town to what it is today,” his son Mike Giammona said. As the owner of City Sewer Pumping, Butch was connected to the community through his work building septic tanks for most of its residents.

“Knowing that they helped build the community, that was a huge sense of pride for him,” his niece Cindy Campigli said. “You help people, you help your neighbors. I think being from a small town, being from a small community shaped him.”

When Butch wasn’t working, he was with family. He loved hunting, fishing and sharing meals with his loved ones, as the paterfamilias of a large Italian-American family.

Butch was born May 23, 1941, in Oakland, to Joseph Michael Giammona, Sr., and Catherine Raffaelli Giammona. Joe, who was born in Detroit, and Catherine, born in Healdsburg, were the children of Italian immigrants; Joe’s parents were from Palermo, Sicily, and Catherine’s were from Lucca. Joe worked as a concrete finisher in San Rafael and Catherine ran the household. Around 1945, the couple moved to a house on Drake’s View Drive.

In 1951, Joe started City Sewer Service, which was later renamed City Sewer Pumping, while Catherine was busy raising their seven children and cooking extravagant meals. “Lunches were considered what a five-course dinner is today,” Cindy said of her grandmother’s household.

When his health declined, Joe turned over management of the company to 15-year-old Butch, who was still in high school. “It became his responsibility to keep the family going and keep the business going,” said Cindy, who now works as the business’s operations manager. 

Two of Butch’s teachers at Tomales High School, Ms. Rook and Ms. Gibson, made sure he showed up to school every morning so they could give him make-up assignments when he had to leave for work. “They made sure [he] finished high school,” said Lee Giammona, Butch’s wife of over 38 years.

Butch didn’t know Lee at the time, and after graduating from high school he had married Theressa Jeanne Machado from Sonoma. The couple had two sons, Mike and Ted. In 1980, the marriage ended in what Mike called an amicable divorce.

Butch and Lee had gotten to know each other after two of Butch’s sisters, Jackie and Judy, told Lee that Butch needed some advice. “It was kind of a setup,” Lee said. “They sort of arranged for their brother and me to talk on the phone and meet.”

In 1982, the couple got married in Judy’s yard on Highway 1. As the bride remembered, “The whole town came.”

The marriage brought under the same roof Butch’s two sons, Mike and Ted, and Lee’s children, Tom Manning and Jill Manning-Sartori, from her first marriage. “My mom, my brother and I were all from New York, and when they got married, we didn’t have any family on the West Coast, and they really took us in,” Jill said.

Tom added, “That was one of those Brady Bunch deals. My sister was in eighth grade, I was a sophomore in high school, Ted was a junior, and Mike was a senior. That’s true love, putting all those four teenagers together.” Like Butch, the kids would all graduate from Tomales High.

Each year, Butch and Lee loaded the kids and the dog into a pickup and drove four and a half hours to Antelope Lake, to camp out and fish.

“We would just always gather,” Jill said. “Maybe we were going to have fresh-caught salmon or canned tuna or venison sausage, and we were going to hang out and play cards and eat delicious food and talk about whatever’s going on.”

Butch would bring together family and friends from all over town. Gary Simon, a friend for 50 years who insisted on calling Butch “Ciro,” remembered, “Everything they did they asked, ‘Do you want to come?’”

Gary, who was 18 when he first met Butch, was an outsider from near Fairfax. Butch, the lifelong local, taught him “how to get along with people out in West Marin,” introducing him to residents and getting him involved in community activities like the Little League Crab Feed at the Red Barn. 

Gary, who runs Building Supply, remembered doing business with Butch. “You don’t want to screw him, because that didn’t work,” he said. “He lived by, ‘I’ll do for you if you do for me, but do against me…’”

One day, when he took Gary out for his first hunt on the Laguna Ranch before the land was a national seashore, Butch shot a deer. “He picked up the deer and threw it in the truck when everyone else would take two people to put that deer in the truck,” Gary said.

By all accounts, Butch was big—“a big bear of a man,” Cindy said.

He loved going fishing with his brother Joe in their tiny outboard motorboat. “You used to see these two big guys going up and down on Tomales Bay in this little skiff, smoking their cigars,” Cindy said.

Out on the ocean, Butch caught salmon for smoking and albacore for canning. When his grandson Ryan brought home a fresh-caught salmon just three weeks before he passed, he and Lee took to smoking the fish.

And there were feasts. “When he was still working at the business it wasn’t uncommon for guys around town to come to the yard around lunch,” Cindy said. “They would have a nice feast down here, and they ate good. A lot of times it would be fresh fish they’d caught or deer meat. It was well known that if you wanted to eat well, you stop by the yard at lunch and you’d eat good.”

Butch loved cooking enough that, on top of his job at City Sewer, he worked in the kitchen at his brother Joe’s diner downtown, spending time with Joe and his other brother Frank.

On weekends, Lee and Butch gathered friends and family and went dancing all around town. They loved Rancho Nicasio, where they’d bring out their waltz, foxtrot, two-step and country western dance. “He was a wonderful dancer,” Lee remembered.

Lee, who loves to travel, said when she met Butch he was “not much of a traveler.” “He sort of had to get used to going places,” she said. Eventually, he grew to love their trips to Italy. “I think he kind of felt like he was home,” Lee said.

Home, and installing septic tanks there, was what Butch knew. “He always said, ‘I’ll never move.’ This is where he knew all his friends; this is where he felt comfortable,” Mike said.

Mike, who now runs the company, added, “He probably installed over 90 percent of the septics in West Marin. He got to know everybody. He didn’t know houses by address, so we’d have to go back two or three owners ago, and he’d remember the septic. We’d drive up to people’s houses and he’d tell us where the septic system is.”

During a recent job at the old Tomales High School, City Sewer staff had to consult their elder to find old sewer lines. Cindy remembered Butch saying, "Your uncle Frank and I did those in the ’60s. This is where we dug.”

 

Butch is survived by his wife Lee Giammona; his siblings Rosie Lucchesi, Frances Simondi, Jackie Campigli and Frank Giammona; his children Mike Giammona and Ted Giammona, his step children Tom Manning and Jill Manning Sartori; his grandchildren Morgan Giammona, Ryan Giammona, Isabel Sartori, Madeline Manning, Marshall Manning and Alex Sartori. Donations can be made to the West Marin Field Committee, P.O. Box 300, Point Reyes Station, CA, 94956.