'I'm Proud to Be an American' : For Parade Marshal, Love Affair Continues

Times Staff Writer

For Andrew Tomasini, this is the most exciting day since Feb. 27, 1911, when a ship bringing him from his native Italy sailed past the Statue of Liberty into New York.

The 91-year-old saloon keeper will be driving a covered wagon, leading the annual Del Norte County Fourth of July parade as grand marshal.

It will be the culmination of a 74-year love affair with America for the 5-foot, 2-inch Tomasini.

He hasn't missed a parade on the Fourth of July since his arrival in this country as a wide-eyed lad of 17 from the tiny village of Livemmo in the Italian Alps, but this is the first time he actually will be in a parade.

Every year a prominent citizen of Del Norte County, (population 18,000), a rural county on the Oregon border, is selected from various nominees submitted by local residents to lead the Independence Day parade through downtown Crescent City, the county seat.

Among the nominees this year was one sent in by a woman who described an old timer standing near her at last year's parade.

"I was so taken with the old man's obvious love for this country," the woman wrote. "When the American Flag went by he put his hand on his heart, tears came to his eyes and he said: 'I'm proud to be an American.' What a perfect grand marshal that old man would be for our Fourth of July parade."

The old man was Andrew Tomasini, saloon keeper of Fort Dick, population 400. He was unanimously chosen by the committee to be grand marshal.

Tomasini has operated his old-fashioned eight-stool saloon (there's a bench for the overflow) in the front room of his 117-year-old home since Prohibition ended in 1933.

On the saloon ceiling is an American flag. Photos of Tomasini's all-time favorite Presidents, Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, hang from the wall.

"People from all over Del Norte County know and love Andrew. They stop by his tavern to listen to his stories, to soak up his down-to-earth philosophy," said Fort Dick Fire Chief Richard Hanson, 39. "The whole town plans to turn out to watch Andrew lead the Fourth of July parade."

Tavern Opens at 2

The Fort Dick Tavern opens every day at 2 p.m. and stays open until Tomasini gets tired and figures it's time to go to bed, which is usually about 8 o'clock.

"I work six days a week and take Mondays off," said the old timer. Asked what he does on Mondays, he replied:

"On Mondays I monkey around."

He is a beekeeper and has an immaculate garden filled with vegetables and an orchard with pear, cherry and apple trees he planted over half a century ago. He has chickens. He cooks his own meals on a wood stove.

In his saloon are the antlers from 100 deer he killed over the years to provide himself with meat for the long, cold Northern California winters.

A widower, he has two living children, 25 grandchildren and 24 great-grandchildren.

The floors in his 1868 home are warped; they wiggle and creak with age. His half-century-old wallpaper is faded, stained and frayed.

"Grandpa's little old tavern keeps him young, keeps him going," said his daughter-in-law, Leona Tomasini. "Being grand marshal of the parade is the thrill of his life."

'Sharp as a Tack'

"Every November for the past 18 years Andrew has assured me he wasn't going to renew his liquor license, that he would retire," said beer distributor Jordan Kekry, 52. "But he has no intention of ever quitting. He's as sharp as a tack and his memory is incredible."

And today, the 91-year-old is to lead Del Norte County's big parade through the streets of Crescent City with 85 units following him--bands, floats and marching groups--as he sits perched high atop the wagon. Sharing the reigns with him will be Bill Hallock, 66, a retired school teacher who built the covered wagon.

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