May 23, 2006 > Fremont stories
The Orsetti Family
by Philip Holmes
Tri-City Voice is running a series of nine stories of people who lived and worked in Fremont before its incorporation 50 years ago. Volunteers with the Museum of Local History will be archiving these and other stories where they will be available to the public.
Giovanni Orsetti served his term in the Italian army and then came to the United States in 1912 to seek a better life and "earn his fortune." He worked several places in California and Mexico before returning to Italy where he married Brunetta Guerrazzi in 1918. Returning later to California, he worked in Madera and then sent for his wife and 18 month-old son, Bruno, to join him. Giovanni bought land and planted a vineyard but lost all during prohibition times. He then moved his family to South San Francisco to work in the factories. His daughter, Anita, was born there.
Giovanni leased the old Granger farm at Alvarado in 1929 and began raising vegetables. His brother, Virgil, who had relocated to Washington Township and owned a farm on Jarvis Road, helped him get started. He bought his own eight-acre farm in 1934 near Decoto Road and Fremont Boulevard, where Regan's Nursery is now. Later he bought property adjoining on both sides to make a 25 acre farm. The bank trusted him so much that the bank manager, August May, gave him the title to the land before Giovanni paid the note in full.
Son Bruno attended Alvarado Elementary School and then graduated from Washington High School in 1941. When the war broke out, he studied to be a radio operator, enlisted in the Navy in 1942, then returned to help his father on the farm after his discharge.
Bruno met Florence Downing at a Castro Valley festival picnic put on by the Oakland Produce Merchants. She was a bookkeeper at the Galli Fruit Company and lived in Concord, but they managed to see each other and were married at a church in Pacific Grove in 1951. They lived in a house on the family farm. Their son, Bill, was born in 1953 and their twins, Louise and Jim were born in 1955. To be near Washington High School, they moved their family to Hastings Court in 1963, but Bruno continued working on the farm.
Giovanni, Bruno and Anita's husband, Edward Fantuzzi, worked the farm. They used horses at first and later bought a wheel tractor that made it easier to plow, plant, and harvest the vegetables. Some of the heavier work was done with a crawler tractor. Florence sometimes drove a tractor during the harvest. There was a well on the farm that supplied all the water.
A large barn was necessary to house the truck and the animals. The work animals needed a stall with a corral. The loft was used for hay storage, and one section of the barn was needed to pack vegetables to load on the truck. Spinach had to be packed in crates and dipped in a trough of water to keep it fresh. Crates and packages were always labeled with the Orsetti family name and address before they were delivered to the produce market in Oakland.
Giovanni was the leader of the family, made most of the decisions and did the planning, but he sometimes consulted with his brother, Virgil. Giovanni was a quiet, reserved man and didn't join organizations. He and Brunetta often stayed at home or invited other Italians who lived in Washington Township to visit them.
Virgil Orsetti formed a family partnership called V. Orsetti and Sons and eventually distributed the Orsetti produce at Golden Gate Brokerage in San Francisco. Bruno joined the Farm Bureau ultimately becoming a director. Farmers, orchardists and ranchers from the Washington Township area attended the meetings held in the Washington High School cafeteria. Occasionally, they had potluck suppers or ice cream socials.
When his father retired and leased the farm, Bruno worked for the Decoto School District as a bus driver and custodian for ten years. After that he was a custodian for ten years at Chabot College. He also served as a substitute mail carrier on the RFD routes to farmers. While working for Chabot College he earned a Bachelor's Degree at California State University at Hayward.
Bruno's son, Bill, is enjoying a career as a lighting designer for theaters and movies in Virginia. Daughter, Louise, is a technical writer working for various firms in Silicon Valley. Jim is a network service man employed by IBM.
The farm is now property of the City of Fremont, leased to Regan's Nursery.