When Irene Pons began high school at Amador Valley, it was called Amador Valley Joint Union High School. It was 1923, one year after the school first opened. When the school celebrated its 80th birthday in 2002, she was on hand, invited to the special occasion because of her extensive history.
Mrs. Pons, a lifelong resident of Pleasanton, died Oct. 2 at the age of 97. She was the oldest living native of Pleasanton as well as the oldest living Amador grad at the time of her death. A daughter of Italian immigrants, Mrs. Pons was known for her ravioli dishes and biscotti.
Her interests spanned all of the arts, from playing the piano to painting to cooking to writing poetry to sewing.
"She was a very bright woman," said her son Gene.
Her love for life didn't fade away toward the end, as she continued to live alone in her home on Vineyard Place, cherishing the times her nieces and nephews stopped by to eat her homemade biscotti cookies, made from a recipe she inherited from her Italian family. A large book she kept held numerous recipes that were passed down to her from her mother and grandmother, who lived in a small village outside of Portofino, Italy.
Mrs. Pons was born in Pleasanton on Jan. 9, 1910 to parents Adele and Luigi (Louis) Ghiotti. The Ghiottis came to Pleasanton after crossing through Ellis Island from Italy in 1897.
After she graduated from high school in 1927, Mrs. Pons worked as a telephone operator.
"The phone numbers back then were just three digits," Gene Pons said. "When she started, there were 215 numbers in Pleasanton."
When a fire broke out, it was Mrs. Pons' job to ring the fire alarm.
She married her husband Dan in 1934. The pair became the proprietors and operators of the Colombo Hotel and Restaurant that same year, managing it until 1942 when World War II began. The business was passed down from Mrs. Pons' parents, who purchased the hotel after they were told the owner was looking to sell it because they were having a problem with "ladies of the night." The hotel was located at 537 Main St., where Bicycles! Pleasanton is now located. At the time, the hotel had eight to 10 rooms and attached cabins. The Ghiottis lived in a home behind the hotel.
After selling the Colombo, Dan Pons went to work for Kaiser, while Mrs. Pons was a stay-at-home mom during the time her only son Gene was in school.
Her love for the arts filled a big part of her life, as she was involved in the founding of the Pleasanton Art League. As an avid artist, Mrs. Pons painted a number of works, many of which she commissioned and sold.
"One of the best ones she painted was of the Pleasanton Hotel, which when she lived on Vervais Street, they had a great view looking down on the hotel," Gene Pons said.
The hotel's owner like the painting so much, he bought it. Mrs. Pons painted for most of her life until her eyesight started failing.
A love of music led her to play the piano and in 1929, she purchased a Sherman & Clay piano for $259. She kept the receipt, which showed that she payed it off at $9/month--which was considered a lot of money at the time.
The piano still sits in her home, a reminder to her son of all the times she used to play classical music at family gatherings as well as alone in her solitude. She also enjoyed sewing and often times bought patterns and made her own clothing. Writing poetry and short stories came naturally to her. At Christmastime last year, she wrote a spinoff to "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," to include all of her family members' names.
She was a sharp woman up until her death.
"She had a good sense of humor. She still enjoyed a lot before her death," Gene Pons said. "Many of her memories go back to her trip to Italy to visit her family. She had a tremendously good memory."
"She was always good-natured. Not much bothered her," added Gene's wife Annie. "She was very articulate, very knowledgeable. She listened to the radio all the time and was up on politics."
Mrs. Pons stayed vibrant through her 90s and could read off all the states and their capitols, something she liked to practice as a mental exercise.
She was also an independent and self-sufficient woman, having lived alone until her death.
Because Mrs. Pons' history with Pleasanton runs so deep, Gene Pons said he plans to work with the Museum On Main to share some of her photographs and keepsakes.
Mrs. Pons is survived by her son Gene Pons of Pleasanton; daughter-in-law Annie Pons; three grandchildren: David, Jennifer and Matthew; three great-grandchildren: Carly, Cole and Camille and loving nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by her loving husband Dan in 1978.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to Hospice of the East Bay, 3470 Buskirk Ave., Pleasant Hill, CA 94523.
The family plans to hold a private gathering to remember her.