Toolin’ Around Town: Long teaching career fit perfectly into Gino Paieri’s plans

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In September 1959, Gino Paieri stepped onto the campus of the sparkling, newly built Petaluma High School, to begin his equally brand-new job as a mechanical drawing teacher. One of 44 faculty members beginning the new school year, the moment marked a major achievement in Paieri’s life, one he couldn’t have imagined, when growing up in hometown of Dubino, Italy.

Dubino is a picturesque municipality near the foot of the Swiss Alps in the Province of Sondrio, in the Lombardy region. It’s where Paieri was born in 1927, and where he expected to spend his life. As a skilled furniture maker and accomplished accordion player — whose four-piece band played weekend bookings around Lake Como, a well-established playground for the wealthy — his future looked bright.

The youngest of three brothers, Paieri, grew up helping his parents tend their vineyards and farm animals. His older brothers joined the Italian Army, leaving him to help out the family. Attending school was challenging in wartime Italy. Paieri had to quit school at 14 and learn how to build furniture. By the age of 17, he had established himself as a quality woodworker and was taking well-paying jobs in Italy and Switzerland, along with earning extra money playing music on weekends.

After the death of an uncle who lived in San Francisco, Paieri came to the United States, in 1950, to resolve his uncle’s estate. Once here, he was surprised at how much the City’s Italian community reminded him of home.

“The people spoke Italian at restaurants and hotels and on the street.” said Paieri, who understood limited English. “It was just like being in Italy.”

With every intention of returning home, Paieri visited with a pair of Italian brothers who hailed from his own hometown. One of them had a daughter, Wilma Facendini, whom Paieri fell in love with.

“She was beautiful and nice and she spoke fluent Italian,” Paieri said of his late wife of 30 years.

After their marriage, he landed a job as a furniture maker for Nelson and Sloat Furniture in Santa Rosa. Two years later he was drafted into the Army, forcing him to become proficient in English. He was in training to be sent to Korea when that conflict ended, so he was rerouted to New York. In a twist of fate, it was discovered he wasn’t a citizen, so he remained in Brooklyn where he studied for and passed the citizenship exam.

“Looking back, it was the best thing ever to happen to me,” Paieri said. “I didn’t have to serve in the Italian Army. I served in the United States and became a citizen. That’s what influenced me to go to college and dedicate myself. I didn’t fool around, I graduated in three years.”

With a degree in Industrial Education from Chico State College, he received a call from the Petaluma School District offering him a job.

“We had a very good program and our students did exceptionally well,” Paieri said proudly. “Year after year, my students came home with the top medals and awards from the Industrial Arts Exposition in Sacramento.”

Paieri taught mechanical drawing for 32 years at PHS, while simultaneously teaching Italian at adult night school and at Santa Rosa Junior College, until 2008.

Ambitious and creative, Paieri teamed up with metal shop teacher Jim David and woodshop-mechanical drawing instructor Harold Nelson during vacations, to help each other build their homes. According to Paieri, Nelson was a specialist in concrete foundations, David was adept at plumbing, and Paieri built the cabinets and did finish work. Together, they constructed three houses.

“I drew up the plans for my own house and built it the way I wanted,” he said of his hillside residence, which includes an extensive basement woodshop, where he crafted all of his home’s high quality walnut furniture.

At 90, Paieri remains active, engaging and in good health, keeping busy with small jobs on his rental properties, and meeting regularly with several former co-workers over morning coffee. He and Wilma, who worked as a school secretary, raised one daughter, Linda.

Paieri’s looking forward to meeting many of his former students at the Petaluma-St. Vincent’s 60s Decade Reunion, on Saturday, July 14, at Herzog Hall. The reunion committee is inviting all the one-time Petaluma High School and junior high school teachers who taught during the 1960s to be their guests at the reunion.

(Harlan Osborne’s column ‘Toolin’ Around Town’ runs every other week. Contact him at harlan@sonic.net)

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