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.'"