UPDATE: Ruonavaara's Sign Posted, Flag at Half-Staff

Memorial service set for 1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 21 at Healdsburg Community Church.

UPDATE: This story was updated two times on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2012 to add information on the sign, the memorial service and to correct his age to 92. NOTE: On Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012, his age was verified as 92 by local writer Shonnie Brown, who tracks Healdsburg history. According to Shonnie, Clarence Milton Ruonavaara was born June 18, 1919 in Fort Bragg.

Story updated again on Friday, Jan. 13, 2012, to add the sign photo and news of the flag at half-staff (see comments and photos).

Clarence Ruonavaara, a Healdsburg icon who died the morning of Monday, Jan. 9, at the age of 92, missed seeing a new sign posted at with his name on it by only a few days, said contractor Jerry Eddinger, Ruonavaara's lifelong friend.

"We were hoping to get it up Wednesday or Thursday," Eddinger said. "He was stopping every few days to see the work."

Now, Edddinger said, the sign on the outside of the ballpark will become one of the main elements of a ceremony in mid-March to unveil the completed

The ceremony, Eddinger said, could also become a memorial for Ruonavarra, who devoted his life to Healdsburg public service, education and baseball.

"He was my teacher, my coach, my mentor -- I was even his batboy when he played for the Prune Packers," said Eddinger, 73, who said he has known Ruonavaara his whole life. "He was like my favorite uncle."

Eddinger, a local contractor and Healdsburg Planning Commissioner, said he would miss Ruonavaara enormously.

"It's not just my loss," he said Tuesday. "It's a loss for the community -- a worldwide loss, as far as I'm concerned."

A memorial service for Ruonavaara will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 21 at

Ruonavaara, feted in the summer of 2010 when the city named the renovated grandstands at after him, passed away peacefully about an hour after making a 9-1-1 call for help just after 7 a.m. Monday, said Bob Santucci, a longtime family friend.

"He had an amazing life," said Santucci, a  fellow member with Ruonavaara of the

"He was the epitome of what a Healdsburg person is," Santucci added. "He lived his life in public service -- he had wealth like a rich person because he had perfect health and a loving family."

Santucci's father, former owner and editor Arnold Santucci, said he knew Ruonavaara for more than 60 years, ever since Santucci came to town in 1950.

"He was so community-minded," Arnold Santucci said of Ruonavaara. "If you needed help with the community, there he was."

Ruonavaara, who received the coveted "Pioneer Award" from the , graduated from Healdsburg High School and later returned there to be a teacher, Santucci said.

He was a "great baseball player," according to Arnold Santucci. In  spring 2010, the detailed Ruonavaara's long baseball career in an article, "Baseball Was My Passion."

Ruonavaara played baseball for Healdsburg High, then for UC Berkeley, where he graduated in the Class of 1942 with a degree in education.

Later, he played for local leagues, such as the Prune Packers, Arnold Santucci said.

"Clarence really taught me what a best friend is," Bob Santucci said. "I'm glad I was able to get to know him better in the last few years."

In addition to the Kiwanis Club, Ruonavaara also was active with the American Field Service foreign student exchange program, Arnold Santucci said.

According to Arnold Santucci, Ruonavaara was born in Albion, on the  Coast. His family moved to Healdsburg when he was 12, Santucci said.

Ruonavaara has two sons, Jim and Tom. His wife Betty passed away some years ago, Santucci said.

He was not ill, but Santucci said he told one of his family members on Sunday that he was a little tired. They told him to rest.

"He was very active up until yesterday," Arnold Santucci said.

Eddinger said he last saw Ruonavaara on Saturday, when Eddinger was working at Recreation Park and Ruonavaara stopped by to visit.

"When he was leaving, I said, 'Don't you ever get tired walking?'" Eddinger recalled. "He said, "No, I like to walk.'"

Ann Carranza January 10, 2012 at 03:22 AM
Charming, handsome even in his elder-statesman years, and gracious, the loss of Clarence Ruonavaara, is a loss for all of Healdsburg. To his family and friends, I send my heartfelt condolences. He will be deeply missed.
Ken Scarboro January 10, 2012 at 04:57 AM
I was privileged to be able to know Clarence and consider him a friend. He always seemed to have a smile and a kind word to say. He will be greatly missed. Our prayers go out to his family.
Carol Finwall January 10, 2012 at 08:12 AM
Clarence was a great guy to know, and fun to visit with. We were privileged to count him as a friend for over 20 years, and will miss his friendly smile and the memories he was always willing to share. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.
austin January 11, 2012 at 03:03 AM
He will be missed.
Leroy and Candy Danhausen January 11, 2012 at 05:33 AM
What a tremendous loss to our community as well as his family and many friends. Clarence walked 3 miles every day and on Sat. he called us and mentioned that he had to turn around and go home after 2 blocks that day due to shortness of breath. He was so healthy and active until the very end. Leroy and Candy Danhausen
Jane St. Claire January 11, 2012 at 06:19 PM
Clarence was devoted to his family and his Lord. His church family at Healdsburg Community Church will miss his smiling face.
Lew Sbrana January 11, 2012 at 07:09 PM
If there ever was a true role model it was Clarence. A quiet man of God, a true friend, a servant, humble, and always kind and accepting. We always said, "Clarence, when we grow up we want to be just like you." Such an easy man to love. Lew and Elaine Sbrana
shonnie brown January 12, 2012 at 03:12 AM
I had the great privilege of not only doing a Neighbors column on Clarence but writing (with him) his oral history for the Healdsburg Museum, which anyone may read on my Facebook page. I can verify that Clarence Milton Ruonavaara was born on June 18, 1919 in Fort Bragg, California. He is everything that everyone has said and more. A gentleman, a role model, someone who infused me and others with wanting to do good and be a better person. He was pretty much the last of the greats from Healdsburg's golden era of volunteerism and generosity.
Keri Brenner (Editor) January 12, 2012 at 04:01 AM
Thanks Shonnie for verifying Clarence's age as 92. I will put that back in the story. I appreciate your depth of local knowledge and history.
Carol Finwall January 14, 2012 at 01:38 AM
It was touching to walk by the ballpark today and see that the flag was at half-staff. Missing Clarence!
Jack Hickey January 17, 2012 at 12:39 AM
Clarence Ruonavaara was an exceptional man and remains an inspiration for those he touched. My connection with Clarence began in the 70's when I married JoLene Wilson, mother of Desiree (Desi). Desi was to become the bride of Clarence's son Jim Ruonavaara. I have been privileged to share this family with Clarence and Betty. JoLene and I, along with Clarence and Betty, were at Desi's side for the birth of Rachele Jo and Jacob Ruonavaara. We got together as a family for many holidays over the years. Clarence lost his Betty, and I lost my JoLene. I am grateful to Jim and Desi for inviting me to Clarence's 90th birthday bash. That was to be the last time I saw him, but not the last time I think of him.
Keri Brenner (Editor) January 17, 2012 at 01:56 AM
@Jack Hickey: Thanks for sharing your personal memories of Clarence. Also thanks for the very fine photo of him from his 90th birthday party. Condolences to you and the entire family circle.


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