Family recalls life of resident Ray Raineri

Martinez Tribune

Martinez resident and Sons of Italy member Ray Raineri. (COURTESY / On File)
Martinez resident and Sons of Italy member Ray Raineri. (COURTESY / On File)
MARTINEZ, Calif. – Ray Raineri, a Martinez history buff who helped spearhead the restoration of the Joltin Joe that formerly belonged to baseball legend Joe DiMaggio, has died at age 77.

Raineri was chairperson of the Sons of Italy Diablo Valley Lodge 2167, fundraising to restore the Chris Craft speedboat that was given in 1949 to DiMaggio, who later gave it to Martinez.

“(Ray) was a good man,” his daughter Rhonda Raineri said.

Raineri had been ill for some time, but she said his death Friday in a Napa nursing home near where she lives still came as a shock to his family. Arrangements are still pending.

He was born in Oakland July 22, 1938, and lived in that city for much of his life, Rhonda said. He kept many ties to that city, where he attended Oakland Technical High School, and earned a degree in sociology at what then was San Francisco City College.

He joined the United States Coast Guard in 1957, and was stationed in Southern California. He returned with plenty of stories of good times with those stationed with him. “He loved talking about that,” Rhonda said.

Her father had an incredible memory, she said. “My dad could remember everything.” If he saw a picture of his boot camp mates from his Coast Guard days, “he could remember every name,” she said.

After returning from his Coast Guard duty, Raineri married Kathrine Toft, who was born in Hawaii and had moved to Oakland in time for the two to attend high school together. Before they parted, the couple would rear two daughters, Rhonda and her sister, Sarah, who lives in Bremerton, Washington. Raineri also would remain within walking distance of the home of his mother, Tillie, until her death at 93, Rhonda said.

Raineri became a probation officer for Alameda County, his daughter said. “He retired when he was 50. That was pretty young. He had time to do what he loved.” That included riding his bicycle and swimming, she said.

Along the way, he became enamored of history, Rhonda said. He maintained his pride in his Italian ancestry, too. However, because of his father’s work ties to Emeryville, Raineri also learned about residents of that city who had come from other parts of the world.

That started his interest in other cultures as well as the histories of those who came to California, such as those who arrived from China and built the American railroads, Rhonda said. “He really liked to know the story behind the story, and was more than happy to share.”

Raineri joined several San Francisco Bay Area historical societies – particularly those in Oakland, Emeryville (where his father had worked), and Piedmont. He also did a bit of industrial archeology, too.

“He would dig up bottles,” Rhonda said. Not only would he pick them out, he could describe their historic uses based on his knowledge of their design, she said.

He also became fascinated with the Pacific Coast AAA Baseball League founded in 1903, and became a go-to person for those curious about its teams and players. He also enjoyed trains.

While still in Oakland, Raineri joined the Colombo Club, a social club originally formed by Italian quarry workers who had moved to Oakland after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. It’s now one of the largest active Italian social clubs in the country, and Raineri maintained his membership even after moving to Martinez.

Rhonda said her father moved to Martinez for many reasons. Once his mother had died, he felt he could leave Oakland. “He was ready for something new,” she said.

Encouraged by a woman he was seeing at the time, he looked at the inland city on the Carquinez Strait and made his decision to make it his home.

“When he moved to Martinez, he embraced Martinez,” Rhonda said.

Although he never lost his love of Oakland, he enjoyed his new home town of Martinez, its people and their stories.

Raineri soon began studying the history of Martinez, and he quickly joined the Sons of Italy. He began spending time on his own at the Martinez waterfront. “He would have coffee by the waterfront and watch the ships. He would park by the Harbormaster’s,” Rhonda said.

He learned about the Joltin Joe, which had been on display by the waterfront for years, but had fallen into disrepair from the effects of the weather.

Raineri’s encouragement of the restoration of the Joltin Joe was a logical extension of his love of history, baseball, the water and his Italian heritage, Rhonda said.

He appreciated that DiMaggio had come from a humble Italian fishing family and grew up to be baseball’s famous “Yankee Clipper.” He wanted to remind the public that DiMaggio’s life started in Martinez, not San Francisco.

“Joltin Joe was a passion for years,” Rhonda said. “Joltin Joe was really important to him. A part of him just felt like he could relate to that – the Italian-American experience. And this is Joe DiMaggio!”

In 2010 interviews, he called the boat priceless. He told his daughter and others that the boat’s restoration would be important to everyone.

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One comment

  1. I’m so sorry to hear of the death of your father. I know the pain of lousing a loved one as I lost my mother two yrs ago, and my son two months ago. What has helped me throughout this pain stricken time are the comfort, and promises found within the Bible.
    John 5:28,29 There Jesus promise that there will be an resurrection of the dead. So we have a chance to see our loved ones aging.
    1Cor.15:20-26 there Jehovah promises through his son Jesus Christ to put “the last enemy death to an end.”
    Revaluation 21:3,4 Jehovah ASSURES us that death, pain, and sorrow will be done away with.
    These are just a few of the comforting promise found within the Bible.
    PLEASE when you have a chance take a look at there you will be able to read, download, or have the Bible read to you. You can also download video and many other COMFORTING things.
    You and your family will be in my prayers, stay strong, and take care of each other.

    With my sincerest sympathy
    NyEsha DeVuyst

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