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Harry Louis Bellicitti

Harry Louis Bellicitti Family Mourns Passing of a "Giant of a Man" At 88 years old, Harry Louis Bellicitti completed his days at his home in Saratoga, November 17, 2009, just steps away from where he was born. As a third generation farmer in Saratoga, Harry continued a legacy of using our rich valley soil to grow premium fruit, and Harry did it all in his spare time. Harry's grandfather, Henry Louis Guinchard, moved to Santa Clara County from Switzerland in 1876. Henry worked as a winemaker for Josiah Stanford, who supervised his brother Leland Stanford's winery in Warm Springs (now called Weibel Champagne Vineyards in Fremont). In 1889, Henry became a U.S. citizen, and two years later he married Noelle Allard at the winery. In 1896, Henry bought 50 acres of land in Saratoga where he began growing apricots, prunes, citrus and grapes. Henry and Noelle moved into their new three-story home with a winery on the ground floor, where they began their own winemaking tradition. Over time, the Guinchard family grew to include three girls, Clara, Isabelle and Clemence. In 1902, Angelo Pellicciotti left his home in Lucca, Italy at 16 years old hoping to prosper here in California. He worked at the Pacific Mills in Santa Clara, until he moved "out to the country" to care for the fruit trees on Henry Guinchard's farm in Saratoga. Angelo married the boss's daughter, Isabelle, in 1917, and he agreed to Americanize his name to Bellicitti. Angelo and Isabelle welcomed their firstborn, Lorraine, the following year. In 1920, Angelo left the Guinchard farm and purchased his own property nearby in Rancho Quito. Angelo planted apricot and prune trees, planning to sell the dried fruit. It was on this small farm property in Saratoga that Harry Louis Bellicitti was born April 2, 1921 in Angelo and Isabelle's humble home. Harry learned his outstanding work ethic early, as he worked alongside his father on the ranch even from a young age. At harvest time, Harry helped with the cutting, pitting and drying of the prunes and apricots. Harry also cared for their animals. The Bellicitti family lived frugally using profits from the ranch to purchase additional property. With the extra space, Angelo planted additional orchards, including orange, lemon, grapefruit, and walnut trees. After Harry graduated from San Jose Tech, he worked as a machinist at Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo. Harry enjoyed roller-skating with friends at a local roller rink, and there he met his love, Mary Carolyn Hindes. Harry, Mary and friends traveled all over Northern California skating both competitively and for fun. On March 1, 1942, Harry and Mary eloped and began their life together. During World War II, Mary recalls how people would notice that Harry was home while most other men his age were serving overseas. They did not realize Harry's work at Mare Island, where they repaired the Pacific Fleet, was essential to the war effort. Harry's exceptional work was recognized when he received a Certificate of Merit and $50 for improvements he made on an inside micrometer. Eventually Harry was drafted, and he served in Germany at the end of the war. After his term of service, Harry and Mary moved back to the family ranch in Saratoga, and Harry once again helped his father with the orchards. They were blessed with four children, Mary Frances, Harry Louis Jr., John Henry, and Robert James. In 1952, Harry teamed up with his cousin, Leo Pellicciotti, and founded B & P Construction (short for Bellicitti and Pellicciotti). Starting with just one used tractor, Harry worked tirelessly doing grading work all over the valley. He would often spend all evening in the garage fixing the tractor, after working all day at the job site. As busy as he was, Harry found time to work alongside his sons. His youngest son, Bob, remembers, "He taught me at a young age how to weld, operate machinery and repair things." As the business prospered, the Bellicitti family moved away from the ranch, but Harry continued to help his father until he died in 1962. Over time, B & P grew into one of the largest grading construction companies in the area. Notable projects include Highway 280 at the Lincoln and Bird intersection, and Highway 680 from Milpitas to Highway 101. Harry Jr. who worked for the family business for 35 years described his father as having a "green thumb of mechanics." If something broke, Harry could fix it. And if he could not fix it, he would make a new one in his machine shop. Harry could get just about any engine running. Even when B & P's staff of three mechanics and two welders could not find a fix, Harry could solve the problem in no time at all. Harry Jr. worked side by side with his dad running heavy equipment, repairing tractors and hauling equipment from job to job, noting "It was hard work, and my dad worked harder than anyone else on the job site. In all the years with my dad, I never saw him get upset, throw a tool, or yell even when we had a problem fixing something." For all the hard work he put in, Harry was always smiling and rarely had a complaint. After his father's death, Harry took over the full responsibility for the family estate, using his evenings and weekends to maintain the orchards. In 1980, Harry and Mary completed a new home on the original property in Rancho Quito where Harry was born and they moved back "home." When a severe frost damaged the citrus orchard, Harry decided to replace it with wine grapes. After the first vineyard proved successful, Harry replaced the apricots and prunes with more wine grapes. Harry sold most of the Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Cabernet and Merlot wine grapes to local vintners, including Picchetti Winery in Cupertino. Following in his grandfather's footsteps, Harry began making and bottling his own vintage under the Bellicitti Vineyard label. Ever since, family and friends gather every year to help pick and crush the grapes, and to bottle and label the wine. In 1992, Harry and Mary broke out the wine to commemorate their 50th wedding anniversary. And when their 60th and 65th anniversaries came along, they made merry again. Christmas was also a special time when the Bellicitti home brimmed with rich food, elaborate decorations, mountains of presents, and crowds of people. As an old-timer who never carried a cell phone, Harry could be difficult to find, but he was always willing to help a friend with repairs or some other favor. As Harry slowed down, He had more time to welcome friends who stopped by and to give tractor rides to his great-grandchildren. Harry did not retire from B & P Construction until he was well over 80 years old, and he never stopped caring for the land that his father entrusted to him. Harry is survived by his beloved wife, four children, nine grandchildren, and 12 great-grandchildren. He will be remembered for his cheerful smile, tremendous work ethic, mechanical genius, crushing handshake, and a hug so tight it could crack a rib. Services for Harry will be held Tuesday, Nov. 24 at 1:00 PM beginning at the Alameda Family Funeral & Cremation, 12341 Saratoga-Sunnyvale Rd. Saratoga, CA 95070. A graveside service will follow at Madronia Cemetery, 14766 Oak St. Saratoga, CA 95070. Services will conclude with a reception at St. Archangel Michael Serbian Orthodox Church, 18870 Allendale Ave. Saratoga, CA 95070. There will also be a viewing Monday evening, Nov. 23 from 5 to 8 PM at the mortuary. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Harry's honor to: Hospice of the Valley, 4850 Union Avenue, San Jose, CA 95124

Published in San Jose Mercury News on Nov. 21, 2009
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