By AUTUMN NEAL
It started back in 1902, when Fiore (Frank) Bianchi arrived at Ellis Island, all the way from San Ginese, Italy. However, his search for work was far from over. Though he spoke no English, he was soon employed with the Southern Pacific Railroad to work near Stockton, California. As the railroad line progressed, he discovered a quaint town, with views that reminded him of his home in Italy. In 1903, he purchased land to begin his farm, and his family soon joined him abroad.
And so started the seven generations of Bianchi-Giovannoni in Oakdale.
Kirt and Lindy Giovannoni currently possess the photos, history recordings, and ancestry of the long line, and were more than willing to share such rich history with the community that their family helped establish. The following information was gathered by LeRoy Giovannoni from other family member’s recollections, as well as Lindy’s organization as she delved into the genealogy.
“This is the only line I could find that was seven generations strong in Oakdale, and staying in Oakdale, and actually involved in Oakdale,” Lindy Giovannoni shared.
T-Shantine Bianchi joined his son’s Orange Blossom ranch after the death of his wife. Though his arrival dates remain unclear, he still spent a good amount of his life in Oakdale. To this day, there are no pictures of T-Shantine, but his descendants recall him being a man who worked hard at the ranch, and who “enjoyed local sports and gatherings.” Additionally, as the beginning of a seven-generation Oakdalean line, he was the first family member to be buried here in town.
While T-Shantine was the first of the line, Fiore has been referred to as “the man who started it all.” His family began to join him in Oakdale, California in 1903 – this is most notably when his wife, Letizia Bianchi arrived in Orange Blossom, along with their son, Geno (changed to Gene) Bianchi.
A few special notes for Fiore in his family’s documents are that he was part of the “Italian Cavalry,” was a “circus trick rider,” a “farmer,” admittedly a “bootlegger,” as well as an “avid Oakdale sports fan.”
His daughter, Dena Maria Bianchi (later Giovannoni), was born Aug. 15, 1905 in Oakdale – just over 113 years ago. She was the first member of the line born in Oakdale, the first to begin her education at Oakdale schools, and continued to lead an active role in the community throughout her life.
“There were rumors in Italy, in the little village they were from, of fortune in California, Australia, Argentina, so the brothers split, and Fiore was the one who went to America,” Lindy relayed, “and thank goodness he did, because we’re all here today.”
Not only did these rumors lead Fiore to California, but success enticed other Italians to join him in the Central Valley. Dena later married Gino (changed to Geno) Giovannoni, a fellow villager from San Ginese, and had two sons, LeRoy and Gary Giovannoni.
During World War II, when the public pool lacked employees to care for it, Dena stepped up to manage it with her son, LeRoy, who’s still alive today. Dena would run concessions while her son managed other aspects of the pool.
“There’s a story; Frank Clark published a book,” Lindy explained. “He wrote about Dena in his book. He was a poor child, and she would watch him outside the gate of the pool. After all the kids had come through, she would wave him in and she would, out of her own purse, give him a nickel or a quarter for a hot dog so he could swim with the rest of the kids ... this woman was the salt of the earth.”
Additionally, those who’ve been around in Oakdale for long enough, can recollect the Bianchi Department Store. Dena, Rose (Gene’s wife), and May (Kirt Giovannoni’s aunt) all worked together to run the store.
“It had all your athletic gear, at that time, your sweaters …” Kirt listed on some of the features of the store. But most can confirm it was more of a “finer department” store that was fully in service for close to 25 years.
In addition, Dena was an “active member of Native Daughters of the Golden West” as well as a member of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, according to the family’s documentation.
Her brother Gene also made significant contributions to the community, as seen in the name of Oakdale’s Gene Bianchi Community Center. He, as well as a few other gentlemen (frequently Italian), would often meet in the mornings at Moss Rose Bakery before their shops opened to drink coffee together. Lindy had joined them on occasion and described them as “the most charming, interesting men.”
The line continues, with the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh generations – all of whom are still alive today.
Next week, look for Part Two of the Bianchi-Giovannoni history, where we focus on LeRoy, Kirt, Katey, and the twins that will hopefully continue the line of this unique Oakdale history.