Katherine “Kitty” Davis and her family enjoy a long and fascinating California history. She was born and raised in Sacramento where her family goes back four generations. She has three sisters all ten years apart. Kitty has been lucky enough to have a handful of unforgettable experiences with many unforgettable faces thus far in her life.
John Breuner, Kitty’s great grandfather, founded Breuners Home Furnishings during the California Gold Rush in the 1800s. For 150 years the company made beautiful furniture. One of the most notable projects was the state Capitol. Kitty remembers the pieces they made to be “absolutely beautiful and some of their best work.” She takes pride that it is still in place today.
During the summers Kitty often spent her time working at the store where she learned “the customer is always right,” but her fondest memories as a young girl were the pack trips she went on with her father and extended family through the Sierras. They would all pack up their horses and head for the mountains, spending weeks at a time in nature disconnected from city life. Kitty remarks, “the streams were flowing with fresh water and fish,” and she will never forget “how free she felt on horseback with her father.”
Kitty couldn’t spend a lifetime in nature; she had to go to school. At age 14 she went to Castilleja Boarding School in Palo Alto, where she stayed for a short time. “I really did not like it. I was so far from home and family activities like skiing and horseback riding.” She finished high school in Sacramento with childhood friends. “One of the highlights was I was able to see my crush, Gerard, more often.”
This is when Kitty started dating her neighbor, Gerard Davis. They later married and raised three beautiful daughters in Sacramento: Katherine, Melissa, and Jennifer. Katherine and Melissa live close by with their families in Menlo Park and Hillsborough, and Jennifer lives in La Jolla with her family. Between them Kitty has 9 grandchildren, ranging in age from 10-28 years old, who she is very proud of.
Kitty and Gerard were married 48 years when Gerard passed away, but in those 48 years they were blessed with many wonderful experiences together and as a family. From entertaining friends and family at their homes in Sacramento and Lake Tahoe to wonderful trips. The time at Lake Tahoe where they played loads of tennis, water skied, snow skied, and enjoyed boating and hiking holds a special place for Kitty. In those years Kitty also enjoyed being active with the Junior League of Sacramento and multiple other volunteer organizations while raising their daughters.
Another special memory is their friendship with the former governor of California and president, Ronald Reagan. During his time in Sacramento Reagan kept his horses at Kitty’s mother’s ranch in Roseville and as a result they would often ride together at the ranch. Between their friendship and Gerard’s twin sister, Mary, marrying future Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy, another Sacramento native, in 1963, Gerard and Kitty spent a lot of time in Washington D.C. throughout their marriage.
Among her many special life experiences was in 1983 when she had lunch with Queen Elizabeth II.
During the Queen’s visit to California, “Gerard and I had lunch with the Queen under the rotunda of the Sacramento Capitol.” Kitty remembers, “it was an unforgettable lunch catered by the Nut Tree” – a beloved California restaurant in the day. Later that afternoon they went aboard the beautiful HMY Britannia for dinner.
Kitty and Gerard loved their many years in Sacramento. Once their daughters married and moved away from Sacramento, they spent more time in San Francisco closer to their children and their growing families and attending the ballet and opera with friends. To this day, Kitty enjoys spending time in the city. When Gerard passed, Kitty moved from San Francisco to Palm Desert for about 15 years and enjoyed making many new friends and spending time with old friends.
Unfortunately, after suffering a stroke last summer, Kitty needed to once again move closer to her family and became a resident at Sterling Court. The family was happy to find Sterling Court. Everyone is so nice, she says. Kitty loves her patio at Sterling Court, enjoys the vocalist who performs, and is working on making some new friends. She shares, “my only wish is that it had a hot tub!” When she is not visiting Melissa at her beautiful flower shop, Penflora, on Howard Avenue, she is either watching Fox News or spending time with her three granddaughters and six grandsons. “Each one has a very special place in my heart,” she said.
Kitty is very grateful for the amazing life she lives and can’t wait to continue making lifelong memories.
Family is important to Jim Novello. A caring and hard-working man, Jim even has his son John join him for the interview. As we talk, Jim begins to weave the stories of this family’s rich tapestry.
The Novellos’ story starts in the Old World. Jim’s paternal grandparents, Salvatore and Josephine, came from Sicily and Italy. They booked passage on a ship that took them to New York in 1899 where they stayed with some friends before taking a train across the continent to San Francisco. They settled in North Beach, where many Italians resided and still do today. Sadly, their house was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake, but the resourceful Salvatore built a new house across town in 1907 – on bedrock this time! Jim’s father grew up there in a family of 13. Last year, Jim and family were actually able to walk through the house when it went on the market.
Jim was born in San Francisco at St. Mary’s Hospital in 1935. Though his father came from a large family, Jim was an only child. The family had a hardware store on Mission Street, and when Jim was five, they moved down to the Peninsula.
Here, Jim attended St. Catherine’s School in Burlingame and Serra High School. During high school, he started planning for a career in industrial work. He transferred to San Mateo High for the last two years, taking industrial education classes to prepare him for a career.
Jim’s first job after high school was at the telephone company. He was a switchman, and it was there that he first met Dianne Lee, who would one day become his wife. “We met on the telephone,” Jim says with a chuckle. Because of their jobs at the company, they would place calls to each other. This went on for a number of months until they finally met in person and began a relationship.
Jim was drafted into the army and stationed for two years at Fort Ord in nearby Monterey as part of the 41st Signal Battalion. During this time, Dianne lived at home with her parents in South San Francisco, as the two hadn’t married yet.
After his military service, Jim worked at the Bethlehem shipyards in San Francisco as a steamfitter. His coursework in mechanical drawing prepared him for the role and he enjoyed it, but eventually the shipyards were closed and the company’s operations moved to San Diego. This led to Jim’s next profession: driving a truck as a router for Zellerbach Paper. He was a Teamster and drove local routes to various destinations in California, including Monterey, Stockton, and Sacramento. “I was home every night,” he says. “I was very lucky.”
Jim and Dianne had three children together – two boys and a girl. Jim Jr. lives in Spokane, Washington, while Linda and John are still in the Bay Area.
Both parents volunteered extensively at St. Matthew’s, the children’s school. Among other pursuits, they ran the carnival. “I worked my way up to the top,” Jim laughs. He started by performing as a clown at the annual event and gradually took on more responsibility. Dianne ran the country store booth.
After retirement, Jim kept busy around the house and even worked for his friend’s chauffeuring service, driving clients, mostly seniors, to appointments and to visit family in San Francisco, Oakland, and beyond.
Dianne passed away in 1995, and Jim came to Sterling Court five years ago. He enjoys going for walks and listening to the live music. “It’s wonderful,” he says.
Last year Jim traced his roots on a trip to Italy. He visited St. Petronilla Church in Trabia, Sicily, where his grandparents had married. It was a moving experience to see the small, old building. Though the church was closed and they couldn’t go inside, Jim recalls the building’s exterior: “Stucco walls, a few steps. It hadn’t changed much.”
Jim already has plans for a trip next year to visit Ireland, where his mother’s family was from. “I don’t know as much about that side,” he says, but he says his mother talked often about County Cork. “So that’s where we’re going,” he says proudly.
Asked for some closing thoughts, Jim returns to his family. “I’ll say this – I never went to college. But all of my kids did.” Bravo, Jim!
Janet Bock’s story begins in Ohio’s capital. No, not Columbus. Ohio’s first capital, a small city on the banks of the Scioto River, just south of Columbus, by the name of Chillicothe.
Her mother was a teacher, and her father was a landscape architect. She had a brother and a sister, and the family loved nothing more than to picnic and camp. Janet grew up immersed in nature, spending nearly all her free time exploring the pristine beauty of the wilderness both in Ohio and from coast to coast. “We went to every National Park,” she recalls.
She remembers how the family, sometimes with friends along, would start hiking in the morning and stop for a lunch of only watermelon. They would continue again until evening and then cook dinner. “It was so lovely,” she says.
Every summer in Chillicothe (pronounced CHIL-ih-KOTH-ee), there was, and still is, an annual theatrical production celebrating the history of the region, especially the Native Americans who have lived there for thousands of years. Chillicothe and the surrounding area are home to several earthen mounds built by indigenous civilizations of the past. Students would come to town to participate in the spectacle, and her father even did the landscaping for the production. Janet remembers it quite fondly.
After high school, Janet enrolled at The Ohio State University. “I’m a proud Buckeye,” she says with a chuckle. She attended nursing school there, knowing even during high school that she wanted to become a nurse.
She lived on 15th Avenue in Columbus while in college. This was a treat because the renowned Ohio State marching band would come down 15th during parades, giving Janet a front-row seat. Later, she moved into the nurses’ dormitory, right across the street from the hospital where she studied and worked.
Janet says she’s not exactly sure why she was drawn to nursing, saying that it simply “seemed like a worthwhile career.” After college, Janet wanted to continue her studies and earn a master’s degree. She stayed near Columbus for graduate school.
Nurses deal with a lot in their work. Janet recalls one particularly harrowing experience with two young men who came into the ward after severe diving accidents.
Janet married and had four kids: two girls and two boys. As a family they camped and spent time outdoors, just as she had done when she was a child. Her husband hadn’t grown up camping and was more inclined toward the mechanical world than the natural one. “He was into cars and cameras,” Janet says.
She remembers one instance where the family actually talked him into coming camping. They bought a canvas hammock with netting on the sides from a military surplus store. All was well until the nighttime when Janet’s husband was disturbed by the tail of a skunk tickling his back through the hammock! It was pretty difficult to convince him to come along after that, she says with a laugh.
Janet has been at Sterling Court for a year and a half. She fell some time ago, breaking her hip but thankfully not hurting her head. After surgery and recuperation, she eventually moved in here. She has two kids in the area, while the other two are also on the West Coast, in Seattle and Pasadena. Her grandkids are mostly grown, all working or attending college in various places.
Janet cherishes living at Sterling Court. Her birdfeeder brings hummingbirds to her balcony, and she loves spending time with fellow residents during meals. Asked for her closing thoughts, Janet remarks on how “wonderful everyone here at Sterling is.” A fitting thought from this caring person.
Sherri Olsen’s roots go back four generations in California. She was born in San Francisco, and her family moved to the Peninsula when she was eight years old. She attended Meadow Heights Elementary, Abbott Middle, and Hillsborough High School. Her mother worked as a librarian and her father had his own company, working as a manufacturing representative for builder’s hardware. She has one sister, who became a lawyer and remained in the area, living in Belmont.
After high school, Sherri headed east to the Rockies, studying art history at the University of Colorado. Going to college in Colorado has its perks, especially for Sherri who was an avid skier for many years. “I loved it there,” she says. With Steamboat Springs, Vail, Breckenridge, and many other skiing destinations so close, it’s understandable why!
Sherri has kept in touch with her college roommate. A shared apartment in Scottsdale allows them to travel to see spring training baseball games in Arizona together. A noted Giants fan, Sherri has followed the team for as long as they’ve been in town, since her sophomore year of high school.
She came back to the Bay Area after graduating and applied her art history knowledge working at the de Young Museum. One of her favorite exhibitions that came through the museum featured artifacts from the ancient Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamen. Another favorite showcased the wild glass creations of artist Dale Chihuly.
Living in the Bay Area, Sherri met her husband Howard through a mutual friend. They got married and five years later had a daughter, Kristy. Howard worked in logistics, ensuring that transportation companies had proper documentation for travel. “He pushed paper,” she says with a laugh. Once Kristy got a little older, Sherri went back to work, as an assistant to the court administrator in San Mateo County. She found the work deeply interesting as it coincided with several high-profile court cases happening in California at the time.
Howard passed away in 2021. Sherri of course misses him and all the things they enjoyed together. “We would drive to the coast and spend time there,” she says. Other times they would visit the casino. Sherri played video poker and Howard played cards at the tables. They always took time to enjoy life. She recalls when they took a weeklong vacation to Europe but ended up liking it so much that they stayed for a month!
Sherri moved to Sterling Court last year. She spends her time enjoying life and doing what she likes: socializing, shopping, and reading. “I read a ton,” Sherri says. Like a true reader, she’ll go for any book she can get her hands on, enjoying a wide swath of literature. For lighter reading, she enjoys mystery novels, especially the work of James Patterson.
Her daughter Kristy lives close by in San Francisco with her two teenage children, Jack and Abby (6th generation Californians!). Sherri sees them most weekends. They visit, have lunch, go shopping, and enjoy their time together. Looks like Sherri is continuing those deep California roots and creating more memories for years to come.
“I take life as it comes,” says Nona Senasac. A persistently creative individual, Nona has spent her life immersed in art. When asked about her artistic style, Nona says she has never stuck to just one approach, but “Realist” is perhaps a good descriptor for her work. It’s an apt term for Nona, whose down-to-earth and pragmatic demeanor is immediately apparent.
Nona’s artistic endeavors began early on, growing up as a 4th-generation San Franciscan in the not-so-sunny Sunset District. She lived with her mother and father, her two older sisters, and her Grandma D. Her oldest sister was 10 years older than her while the other was only two years older. “We were raised like twins,” she says.
Nona describes her childhood as pleasant and overall typical. She spent her days playing outside, walking to the beach, and drawing with chalk on the sidewalks. “You’d draw something and then the rain would wash it away, and that’s how it is.” Grandma D taught Nona how to crochet, a craft Nona still practices to this day.
She attended school at St. Monica on 24th and Geary in the Richmond District. Her father worked as a restaurant equipment salesman. The family spent their summers visiting Nona’s other grandmother, Grandma Edie, along the banks of the Russian River in Guernewood Park, a small community in Sonoma County.
When she was 11, Nona’s family moved to Hillsborough. Nona explains that it was her father’s dream to live there, and the Peninsula’s idyllic sunny weather was the primary reason. Nona attended Mercy High School in Burlingame, graduating in 1955.
Once she finished high school, Nona headed to the verdant hills of Belmont, studying art at the College of Notre Dame. A high school boyfriend said he wouldn’t marry anyone who didn’t have a job. “With art, I could find work,” she explains. And it was a perfect match! Her art classes were her favorites, and after graduating in 1959, she became an art teacher for a number of years.
In 1961, Nona married Dolph Senasac. They first met in high school through a church-run teen club. All of the Catholic churches in the area hosted their own weekly series of social nights for teenagers, Nona explains. “There would be food and drink for about the first half hour, and then the dancing would begin.” Because Nona and Dolph attended the same church, they also met every Tuesday at the same teen club.
After marrying, Nona and Dolph first lived in San Mateo, Dolph’s hometown. Dolph worked as a stockbroker on Montgomery Street in San Francisco, and Nona worked as a teacher in Mountain View. In 1965 they left the Peninsula for the comforts of the East Bay, settling in Dublin before moving near Danville a few years after that.
The couple had seven children: Marc, Theri, Andy, Nicole, Suzanne, Danielle, and Ginette. “The Big 4 and the Little 3,” she says, explaining that they had four children and then an eight-year gap followed before they had the rest. Nona passed on her artistic inclination to her kids and instilled in all of them the value of creativity. “It’s what you do when you’re a mother,” she says. “They all have artistic talent.” Today some of her children live close by in Foster City and San Mateo, while others are as far as Los Angeles, Virginia, and France.
While some of her kids may have moved away, Nona is a Californian through and through. She has explored the state thoroughly and has driven up and down the west coast between British Columbia and Baja California. Previously, Nona and her family would gather in Monterey for Thanksgiving at a lovely hotel. She looks back fondly on the tradition as well as the coastal charm of Monterey. “I miss all the things you can do there,” she says.
Nona’s husband Dolph passed away last year, only five months after the two moved to Sterling Court. “Life changed,” Nona says, “but life goes on.” She loves living in this community and remarks that “the people are extremely nice here.”
Nona still likes to be creative, whether drawing, crocheting, or something else entirely. Looking around her apartment, she says it’s time to make something new. “That’s kind of my life,” she says. “Doing things that are fun and starting over again a couple days later.”
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