Thursday, July 31, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Fifty-year friendship forged in Suisun City

old_freinds_1_30_13

Old friends, from left to right, Gordene (Parkison) Pienovi, Nanciann Gregg, Emma Jo (Kincaid) Ramirez and Happy (Hallett) Marinovich all Fairfield residents, met when they lived in Suisun City in the 1950s. (Robinson Kuntz/Daily Republic)

By
From page C1 | February 03, 2013 |

SUISUN CITY — More than a half-century has passed since the bonds of friendship between four local women, all now septuagenarians, were forged. Happy (Hallett) Marinovich, Gordene (Parkison) Pienovi, Emma Jo (Kincaid) Ramirez and Nanciann Gregg, all Fairfield residents, met when they lived in Suisun City in the 1950s.

There was only one high school, so the four are Armijo High School alumni from different classes (1958-1960). From childhood through maturity, they continued to share the highs and lows of life’s journey together.

Happy Marinovich – Fourth generation Suisunite

Happy Marinovich grew up on Line Street, the same street where her great-grandparents had lived. She has fond memories of enjoying a simpler time in her childhood.

“It was right after (World War II), so the boys would sometimes let us play “war” with them in the tules near the slough,” Marinovich said. “We had gangs then, but not like today. They were kid gangs. There was one called Easy Riders, another called The Tule Rats and also Skeeter’s Gang.”

Marinovich remembers loving to skate at the M & M Skateway, a roller rink built partially over the slough very near where Bab’s Delta Diner is now located.

“They had shoe skates, not the kind you strapped on when you were outside,” Marinovich said. “In high school, I was vice president of the teenage club and we got Fats Domino and Bobby Freeman and others to come perform there. They were called dances then, not concerts.”

Independence Day was a big deal in Suisun City and the parade used to come down Union Avenue and onto Main Street as there was no winding ramps, just a railroad track to cross.

“The Fourth of July was awesome. We had pie-eating contests, watermelon-eating contests, three-legged races, bicycle races and sack races,” Marinovich said. “The Suisun and Fairfield Fire Departments would have water fights where they tried to move a barrel with their hoses.”

After high school, Gregg and Marinovich were neighbors for a time and attended the same local social events. Once at a Halloween party, Marinovich and her husband dressed as Hell’s Angels and her husband roared his motorcycle into Gregg’s living room.

There were also times when friendship was focused by need.

“In 1991, my now ex-husband was going to have a bone marrow transplant and they had a huge block party for him and all my old friends attended,” Marinovich said. “It was kind of an all-day fundraiser to help with expenses, but it was really a party because he might not make it. That’s when you know you have a lot of old-time friends. He did make it and is still in the same house despite being 60 years old at the time of the transplant. I think after the party, he didn’t dare die.”

Nanciann Gregg – New kid in town

In 1955, Nanciann Gregg’s family made their way west from Ohio in search of greener pastures. Gregg’s father got a job as a Pinkerton Detective guarding the back gate at Travis Air Force Base. Being the new kid in town was hard, especially when the place they lived was viewed as “the other side of the tracks.”

“My family lived in Pierce Gardens in Suisun City, which was old military housing,” Gregg said. “My dad told us he had rented a duplex, so we thought it must be fancy and made of brick. When we pulled up in front of the clapboard-looking house, my mom’s mouth just dropped and she couldn’t even get out of the car.”

The houses were off the ground, which turned out to be a good thing because that fall there was a flood that had water lapping right up to their doorstep. The California weather welcoming committee also threw in an earthquake, the Greggs’ first.

“The metal closet doors started rattling and my sister and I thought someone was in there,” Gregg said. “My mom was in the kitchen and all three of us were screaming while my dad stood there laughing at us.”

Gregg’s family experienced financial hardship, which was compounded by her father’s alcoholism.

“The job at Pinkerton’s didn’t last long and my dad had to pawn his birthstone ring for $5 so we could have meatloaf,” Gregg said. “Then he got a job as a mailman – the first mailman in Fairfield. We had to move to Fairfield because the law then was that you had to live in the town you worked. We had been OK in Suisun, but once we moved to Fairfield, my dad started drinking.”

Gregg had felt the stigma of living in Pierce Gardens and was happy to move to Hayes Street.

“If Fairfield people found out you lived ‘over there,’ you were shunned. I remember hearing ‘white trash,’” Gregg said.

The friendships that Gregg made with Marinovich, Pienovi and Ramirez in high school helped her cope with growing up with an alcoholic father, and later they would end up at the same social events.

“When we had children, they went to school together – my daughter and Happy’s were the best of friends,” Gregg said. “Emma Jo’s kids went to Fairfield High, but they were all acquaintances because whenever there was some function, they were all there.”

Over the years, working on high school reunions cemented their already strong bond of friendship. In 1989, they began planning Armijo High School’s centennial celebration, which took place two years later, and those who participated eventually formed the Armijo Alumni Association.

The four share a friendship that can go from zero to intimacy with just a phone call.

“We don’t go to lunch every Wednesday, but there is a bond and you know they have your back,” Gregg said.

Emma Jo Ramirez – Memories in a door

Emma Jo Ramirez was an only child and while her family was not rich, she never felt in need.

“We lived in Cannery Camp when we first came to Suisun. Right across from the railroad tracks there was a seasonal Del Monte cannery and for a lot of people it was the only place they could afford,” Ramirez said. “Then we moved to Solano Street and paid all of $18 a month rent on a little house that was probably no bigger than my living room and kitchen now.”

Ramirez remembers first being friends with Happy Marinovich as they went to Crystal School from kindergarten through eighth grade. While she understands the feelings of Gregg, she never really felt the stigma of living in Suisun City.

“The one thing I do remember really well is Friday night when you went to the Solano Theatre in Fairfield. When you walked in, all the Fairfield kids sat on the right and all the Suisun kids sat on the left. I don’t think it was a separation thing, just something we did,” Ramirez said.

Emma Jo married her husband Gilbert Ramirez in 1958 and they moved to Fairfield. That house contains a vivid reminder of living in Suisun City.

“My childhood home had burned down many years ago and once we were visiting some friends and walking around the vacant lot and my husband found a door. I asked him if it said “219 Solano Street” on it and he said no and I said maybe it was an interior door. So he brought it home,” Ramirez said. “He varnished it, kept the same doorknob and went to the hardware store and put “219” on it. It is now my bathroom door.”

Gordene Pienovi – Healing waters

Teens who got pregnant, married, divorced and then had their children raised by grandparents, was rare but not unheard of in the 1940s and 1950s.

After divorcing, Gordene Pienovi’s mother moved them from Nebraska to Solano County, where they stayed in several poor areas. They started out at Chabot Terrace in Vallejo, moved to Cannery Camp in Suisun City and then to the Waterman Park federal housing project, where the Fairfield Civic Center now sits. After that, they stayed in Suisun City at the decrepit Newbold Hotel, formerly a brothel.

Pienovi wouldn’t go so far as to describe her mother as an alcoholic, but settled on a “party girl” who had gotten pregnant much too young.

“Emma Jo’s dad was a bartender at Sterling’s and my mother was a good customer,” Pienovi said. “My grandmother would send me to the bar to get my mother and walk her home. I was, like, in the fourth grade.”

Pienovi moved to Fairfield on Bell Avenue in 1951, but the stigma struck with her from those who knew where she’d came from. When she met Ron Pienovi in 1961 – she’s been married to him since 1965 – his family, who lived in a historic home on Suisun Valley Road, weren’t exactly thrilled.

“They were very upset that he was marrying a lowlife from Suisun,” Pienovi said.

Of her three close friends, Pienovi knows that they are only a phone call away.

“If you have some sort of deep trauma, you know that they can talk you through it. I can call Happy, for instance, and she can tell me just how I should deal with something,” Pienovi said.

Pienovi is glad places that carry bad memories, such as the Newbold Hotel, are long gone. Still, Suisun City holds a special place in her heart. She goes to Bab’s Delta Dinner every Sunday for breakfast.

“When I go to Babs, I feel like I’m in front of the M & M Skateway,” Pienovi said. “When I walk along the waterfront – it’s the same water that was there before, and it’s beautiful.”

Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at getthelowdown@sbcglobal.net.

Tony Wade

Tony Wade

Tony Wade is the slightly older yet infinitely more handsome brother of long-time DR columnist Kelvin Wade
LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | 4 comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

  • Rich GiddensFebruary 02, 2013 - 11:32 pm

    This is an excellent story showing how this community and its people have changed over the decades. Its very interesting to hear the perspectives and views of all our seniors who we love so much. Outstanding! Thanks Tony!

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • doug rodgersFebruary 03, 2013 - 12:53 am

    Tony, Great article. I have met all of them either at the Lawler House or through the Alumni Association or at Gordene's propery through the Vacaville Heritage Council. They are walking and talking history books of the area and are a delight to listen to them talk about early Suisun/Fairfield. Nice article on them, and well deserved to single them out. thanks.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Patty Goodman StumpFebruary 10, 2013 - 8:12 am

    tony, I enjoyed the article very much. Clearly one's identity isnt defined as where you live and how unfortunate those prejudices touched anyone living in suisun, where my own father grew up. Every time I return to Fairfield-Suisun I feel embraced by the past, warm and comforting. And I was always proud to have Suisun on my postal address, though I understand that no longer exists for those living in the valley. Thank you for you contined dedication to keeping the past alive in our community. patty goodman

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Tony WadeFebruary 10, 2013 - 12:13 pm

    Thanks so much. It was a blessing to get to tell part of their individual and collective tales.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
.

Solano News

Cities dealing with state drought rules

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Muralist helps locals ready for some painted wall history

By Susan Winlow | From Page: A1 | Gallery

It’s ‘camping for 30′ at the Solano fair

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Rejection makes us each stronger

By Angela Borchert | From Page: A2

 
Highway 12 crash sends 2 to hospital

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A3, 3 Comments | Gallery

 
 
Police release name of Vallejo homicide victim

By Glen Faison | From Page: A4, 2 Comments | Gallery

Mall to host Ultimate Army Throw Down

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A4

 
Fairfield police log: July 29, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

Suisun City police log: July 29, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

 
.

US / World

Peace Corps evacuates over Ebola as 2 isolated

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
Pipe break that flooded UCLA dumps 20M gallons

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4 | Gallery

Obama takes tougher line against Gaza casualties

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5, 1 Comment

 
AP Analysis: Amid war, endgames in Gaza emerge

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

2 women survive ordeal along Indiana rail bridge

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Ex-IRS official called conservatives ‘crazies

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5, 2 Comments

Dissent quieted with most Israelis behind Gaza war

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Deadly Israeli strikes hit UN school, market area

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5 | Gallery

Crews work to keep Yosemite fire from sequoias

By The Associated Press | From Page: A12, 1 Comment

 
Sanctions will damage Russia if not lifted quickly

By The Associated Press | From Page: A12

Clashes prevent experts from reaching bodies

By The Associated Press | From Page: A12

 
Suing Obama: GOP-led House gives the go-ahead

By The Associated Press | From Page: A12, 2 Comments

Congress cooperates – and fights – as recess nears

By The Associated Press | From Page: A12

 
Powell maybe not told early about CIA techniques

By The Associated Press | From Page: A12

.

Opinion

Editorial Cartoons: July 31, 2014

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A11

 
What happened to the US?

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A11, 12 Comments

Am I blaming victims?

By Kelvin Wade | From Page: A11, 4 Comments

 
Why ‘compassionate conservatism’ is still dead

By Ramesh Ponnuru | From Page: A11

 
Cruz gets border crisis wrong

By Ruben Navarrette | From Page: A11, 1 Comment

.

Living

Today in History for July 31, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Community Calendar: July 31, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

I want to change my daughters last name to my maiden name

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: A9

 
Horoscopes for July 31, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: A9

.

Entertainment

TVGrid

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Commentary: ‘Orphan Black,’ Emmy snubs and questions of identity

By Los Angeles Times | From Page: A6 | Gallery

Allison Williams headed skyward as NBC’s Peter Pan

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

 
Contract dispute delays ‘Big Bang’ production

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

.

Sports

Lloyd’s film watching impresses 49ers teammates

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
SF benefits from Pirates’ blunder, ends skid at 6

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Complete game shutout lifts Expos to State Tournament win

By Marcus Lomtong | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Hammel fails again for Athletics in loss to Astros

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Ray Guy’s long wait for Hall of Fame comes to end

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Raiders owner confirms talks with San Antonio

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

Stanford star Ty Montgomery rehabbing shoulder

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

 
Greg Ives to crew chief Earnhardt in 2015

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3 | Gallery

Indians trade pitcher Masterson to Cardinals

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

 
Riley speaks out, insists Heat will be competitive

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

Nadal out of 2 tournaments because of right wrist

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

 
Pipe break that flooded UCLA dumps 20M gallons

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

Steelers to retire Hall of Famer Greene’s No. 75

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

 
Fairfield-Suisun 6U Bobby Sox win titles

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B4

Usain Bolt in controversy at Commonwealth Games

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

 
.

Business

US judge slaps $1.3B fine on Bank of America

By The Associated Press | From Page: B5, 1 Comment

 
A more vigorous US economy appears to be emerging

By The Associated Press | From Page: B5

Overhaul approved for troubled California refinery

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

 
Judge says Crystal CEO should testify in lawsuit

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7, 1 Comment

.

Obituaries

Louise Scholten

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

 
Ronald Witt Escue Sr.

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

Scott Allen Shaver

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

 
Clifford C. Hemler

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

.

Comics

Zits

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Peanuts

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Blondie

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Wizard of Id

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Get Fuzzy

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Garfield

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Sally Forth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Dilbert

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Baldo

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Pickles

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Baby Blues

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Beetle Bailey

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Rose is Rose

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Frank and Ernest

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

B.C.

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
For Better or Worse

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Cryptoquote

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

 
Word Sleuth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

Crossword

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

 
Sudoku

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

Bridge

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9