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Annual family picnic extends roots to 1903 immigrants

If you are walking in Audubon Park Sunday around noon and see about 80 people gathered around picnic tables, and many look like they could be related to each other, you have stumbled upon the annual Veltrie extended family picnic.

This reunion picnic has been an annual gathering for 65 years. It’s all thanks to Savario “Sam” Veltrie and Josephine Veltrie, who came to the Inland Northwest from the “old country” – Grimaldi, Italy – in 1903.

Shirley Gibson of Spokane – a granddaughter of the couple – wrote in a brief family history: “When they left Italy, Grandma’s mother came to say goodbye, and she said she would never see (her daughter) again, and she never did.

“When (Savario and Josephine) got to Ellis Island, they were separated for processing and Grandma could not speak English so she didn’t know what was happening. All the women had to take their clothes off, and they took the hose and washed them. Grandma was afraid she would never see Grandpa again.”

The couple had 15 children. Savario Veltrie worked for the Great Northern Railroad, and the family lived in Orient, Wash., but by 1946, almost all the Veltries had relocated to Spokane. The picnic tradition started two years later.

Only one of the 15 Veltrie children is still living – Zelia – who is in her 90s but plans to come from her home in Seattle to the reunion, where she’ll join dozens of Savario’s and Josephine’s grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren.

Gibson, 79, is especially grateful for this year’s reunion. Three years ago, she was given only a short time to live due to tongue and neck cancer. She’s outlived the odds and is now in remission.

“When you think you don’t have too much time in life, there’s a closeness to family you feel in your heart,” she said.

DON GILMORE’S SECRET: When Don Gilmore retired as pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church in 2006, he said, “I’m not thinking of retirement.” And he didn’t really retire. He had already written several books, and he intended to write more. He did.

His 10th book, “Our Best for His Glory” has recently been published. On Wednesday at 7 p.m., he’ll read from his new book at Auntie’s Bookstore. The book is a “devotional” based on stories he told during his 25-year radio ministry on KXLY.

Recently, a study of 500,000 older French folks showed that those who delay retirement reduce their risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Gilmore is a homegrown example of this fact. Aging boomers take note of his secret. Gilmore is now 83.

He attributes his clear-minded longevity to never really retiring, and also to “prayer, wife Natalie’s healthful cooking and a daily run in the woods where (I) do my intercessory prayer.”

GO YOUR OWN WAY: Rick Giampietri, longtime Central Valley High School football coach, revealed to me recently that he had never been to a rock concert until June 29 when Fleetwood Mac came to Spokane. He’s 65 and the first boomer I’ve met who never saw a live concert in the 1960s or ’70s when tickets were pretty darn cheap.

Those of you who know Giampietri’s no-nonsense style will appreciate our dialogue about this amazing fact.

Q: “How was the concert?”

A: “Great.”

Q: “Do you ever regret you didn’t go to rock concerts in your youth?”

A: “No.”

SPEAKING OF GIAMPIETRI: The conversation with Giampietri took place during a break at a weeklong continuing education course he does each summer for teachers. My presentation on boomers generated a surprising and somber discussion among the 60 teachers attending. We were discussing the high suicide rate among boomers; researchers are unsure of all the factors responsible for the spike.

One boomer-age teacher felt the boomers are “bailing on life,” because they were the first generation raised in a disposable culture. If a toy broke, your parents bought you a new one, he pointed out.

Another teacher, also a boomer, wondered if childhood oppression might have lifelong consequences. She pointed out that some in the Greatest Generation believed that beating children was OK.


• Worm Composting – presentation by master composter Sandy Harris on converting kitchen vegetable waste into a rich organic fertilizer for house and garden plants, tonight, 6: 30 p.m., Spokane Valley Library, 12004 E. Main Ave., Spokane Valley, (509) 893-8400.

• Tubbs Hill hike – go fast or slow on this 2.2-mile hike, Tuesday, 2 p.m. beginning at the Mudgy the Moose statue at the trailhead in Coeur d’Alene, (509) 999-7614.

• Scenic train rides – train leaves from Ione Station on Saturday at 1 and 3 p.m. and Sunday at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Reservations recommended, 199 Railroad Ave., Ione, Wash., (877) 525-5226.

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