Toolin’ Around Town: Ravenscroft and her life-long love of horses
Liz Stonitsch Ravenscroft believes she grew up during the best of times.
Among her cherished memories in small-town Petaluma — where the population was 12,500 in the late 1950s — it was not uncommon to see riders on horseback clopping along city streets. Nobody seemed to mind, and nobody honked their horns.
“As teenagers, we’d saddle up our horses and ride all over town,” said Petaluma-born Ravenscroft, a lifelong equestrian who’s been riding since she was 10 years old. “I remember riding to town and hitching my horse, Babe, to a parking meter while I went into Tomasini’s Hardware on Kentucky Street. With friends, I rode behind the cemetery and out to Cotati. We even rode over to the Snack Bar and ordered food on horseback. My horse was my bicycle.”
Still riding at 76, Ravenscroft prefers arena jumping, a classic form of English riding, on her quarter horse, Pickwick, over the Western style she practiced with the Petaluma Junior Riding Club’s drill team, which performed at Petaluma’s 1958 centennial celebration. She gained experience riding in a field near her home called Liz’s pasture. After her father developed the property, it became the Lucky Store parking area.
Many changes have occurred since Ravenscroft’s childhood on Shasta Avenue, where her father, Gottfried Stonitsch, operated a lumber mill and her mother, Paula Stonitsch, along with rearing her daughters, Liz, Adrienne and Erika, taught at Petaluma High School.
Strongly influenced by her mother’s devotion to the Lutheran church, Liz attended St. John’s Lutheran School in Petaluma through the eighth grade, Redwood Empire Junior Academy for two years, and Concordia Lutheran, before transferring to Petaluma High for her senior year.
“You don’t know how grateful I am to my father for allowing me to attend Petaluma High School,” she said. “I remember him telling my mother, ‘If it was good enough for me, it’s good enough for my daughter.’ It was where I made many lasting friendships, including a group of fourteen classmates who still get together.”
Gottfried Stonitsch was five years old when he moved to Petaluma with his parents and sisters in 1921. His father, a sash and door craftsman, became a Skillman Lane chicken rancher. After displaying extraordinary talent in woodworking classes at Petaluma High, Gottfried apprenticed with a sash and door company before establishing his own business on Shasta Avenue in 1937.
In 1941, he and Oliver Arvold formed Stonitsch and Arvold Lumber Mill Works on Redwood Highway North (Petaluma Boulevard North), which became Stonitsch Lumber Co. upon Arvold’s death. The mill supplied lumber for the construction of Two Rock Army Base (now Coast Guard), the 1947 movie set of “The Farmer’s Daughter” and innumerable cattle feeders throughout Sonoma County. Additionally, he converted the former mill site and adjacent acreage into Town & Country Shopping Center. Entrepreneurial, Stonitsch raised Shetland ponies, sheep and cattle, dogs, cats, ducks, chickens and lambs.
“We had an assortment of animals and pets, but my mother would have nothing to do with any animal, especially after our pet ewe, Nancy ate a box mom’s peaches,” said Ravenscroft. “My mother was such a looming presence, she overshadowed everything else. She always offered encouragement, never saying, ‘You can’t do this.’ She was a person of influence. I looked up to her.”
Born and raised in San Francisco, Paula Stonitsch majored in German and history at University of California, Berkeley, graduating in 1939, the year she met Gottfried through her Petaluma relatives. After marrying in 1941, she taught as a substitute at Petaluma junior and senior high schools while working at Poultry Producers. She became a stay-at-home mother for her daughters until 1951 when she began a 49-year teaching career, teaching American government and German at Petaluma High.