1923 - 2003
MONTEREY MEDICINE, SICILIAN STYLE
WRITTEN BY GERALD CARNAZZO,M.D.
This is the story of my father--a loving, dedicatedand caring family physician, who spenthis entire 55-year career serving and caring for the medical needs of people on the Monterey Peninsula and especially those members of our large Italian community. It is a joyful story of his strong faith, his wonderful family and his love, respect and commitment to all those he served andcared for.
William Carnazzo (aka "Doctor Bill") was born on May 23, 1915, in Carlentini, Sicily. His parents, Salvatore and Giuseppina (Josephine), had emigrated to America from Carlentini in 1907 to find work at a time when a world-wide depression made work in Sicily scarce. They settled in Omaha, Nebraska, joining relatives there; Salvatore found work in construction of the new transcontinental railroad. Their first child, my dad's brother Sebastian(aka Ned), was born in Omaha in December of that same year, 1907. Seven years later, in 1914, my grandmother deeply missed her family back in Carlentini, so my grandfather arranged for her to travel back to Sicily to visit them. Shortly after arriving in Carlentini, she discovered that she was pregnant with her secondchild (my dad), and her family insisted that she stay there until after giving birth. After Dr. Bill arrived, he remained in Carlentini with his mom and her family for about eight weeks, and then they returned to America and Omaha by ship and train.
Bill and his brother Ned thrived as youngsters growing up in Omaha, certainly with Ned leading the way, being the olderchild. They both learned to speak fluent Sicilian/Italian from their parents and grandparents, afact that played a major role in their professional lives years later.
Both boys attended the same grammar and high schools in Omaha (six years apart, of course) and also graduated from Creighton University with undergraduate degrees. After his college graduation, Ned joined his cousin Sebastian at Creighton University Medical School, finishing in about 1932. He worked in a surgical practice in Omaha for a few years and then joined the Civilian Conservation Corps in the state of Oregon for three years. After completing his time with the CCC, he joined afamily and surgical practice in Le Mars, Iowa, and moved there with his wife, Alfia (Fina), and their first born son, William.
Bill decided he wanted to follow in his brother’s footsteps and enrolled at Creighton University in 1930. After finishing his undergraduate studies and a collegiate wrestling program (yes, that's true!), he also enrolled in Creighton University's medical school in 1934 to begin a satisfying and long-lasting medical career.
Graduating from medical school in 1938, he completedan internship in Omaha in 1939. It was then that he met and married the love of his life, Carmel Ann Circo, who was one of five sisters. Interestingly, her family history also traced back to Carlentini, Sicily.
The first step in their beautiful life together was their fateful honeymoon trip to California, where they visited Dr. Bill's childhood friend (who had graduated from Creighton Dental School in 1931) Charles Cuva and his lovely wife Rose in Monterey. That visit was a turning point in Dr. Bill’s and Carmel’s lives.
After graduating from dental school, Dr. Cuva worked in a local dental practice in Omaha for a few years, after which he moved to Monterey, California, and set up his own dental practice on Alvarado Street in an office above the State Theater in 1937, two years prior to that honeymoon visit from my mom and dad. During that visit, Charlie spoke to Bill at length about the need for a Sicilian/Italian-speaking family doctor in Monterey to help care for the many and growing Italian families living and working there. He related that many of these loving people, having emigrated from places in Italy--such as Sicily (Catania, San Vito Lo Capo, Palermo, Isola delle Femmine) and Marettimo--did not speak English yet, especially those working in the burgeoning fishing industry. Instead, they relied on their native language to communicate.
After speaking at length to Dr. Bill, Dr. Charlie decided to introduce him to Peter Ferrante, a local Italian attorney, who was somewhat of a titular head of the Italian community in Monterey at that time. During this meeting, Mr. Ferrante also spoke of the urgent need for an Italian physician to care for the needs of the growing Sicilian/Italian constituency in Monterey,especially one who spoke their language.
Apparently convinced enough, Bill and Carmel returned to Omaha and discussed with their families their plan to move to Monterey. Shortly thereafter, they packed up their belongings and headed west again to begin their amazing lives in Monterey, where they established a home on Monroe Street.
Dr. Bill joined Dr. Cuva in his office on Alvarado Street in late 1939, creating a medical-dental office that served the needs of the Italian and non-Italian families of the Monterey Peninsula for over 55 years.
Living and working in Monterey was a joy for both Bill and Carmel even though they dearly missed their families. Dad's practice grew rapidly, and my mom developed many lasting friendships in the wonderful Monroe Street neighborhood. In February of 1941 their first child, my brother William P. Carnazzo, was born at the Monterey Hospital.
As Dad's practice continued to grow and expand in both the Italian and American communities, he soon realized he needed help and decided to call his brother Ned to see if he would consider leaving his medical/surgical practice in Le Mars, Iowa, to join him here in Monterey. Ned responded with enthusiasm and moved to Monterey with his wife Fina and their three children, William, Louis and Frances, to join Dr. Bill and Dr. Charlie in the office on Alvarado Street.
What an awesome and loved group they became, serving and taking care of so many lives here in Monterey. Together they introduced the community to the concept of office calls, hospital calls, house calls and even social calls--anything to take good care of their patients.
But then in late 1942, during World War II, Dr. Bill was drafted into the Army and after a brief stint at Fort Ord was sent overseas for what ended up being two and a half years, leaving Carmel pregnant with their second child, another boy who was born in September, 1943. His name was Gerald—yes, that's me. Dr. Bill was taking an outdoor shower when he was given the telegram telling him that he was a father again! After the war ended, he returned home in 1945 to a huge welcome from his family and many friends. After spending a few weeks with Carmel and his two boys, he returned to work with another enthusiastic welcome from Dr. Cuva, Dr. Ned, their staff and all his patients who had missed him dearly and were so happy to have him home safe and sound. Thus his 55-year career in the care of ever so many patients and their families here on the MontereyPeninsula resumed.
He loved seeing patients in the office, but he was also willingly available to see them in their homes when, for whatever reasons, they were unable to get to his office. Dr. Bill considered it a great privilege to see people in their own homes when needed, because it gave him more insight into their varied illnesses and their lives in general. His availability and compassion for his patients truly underscored what a caring and special man he was in all respects. He especially enjoyed visiting the homes of the members of the Italian community, be they fishermen’s homes or otherwise.
Bill worked hand in hand with his brother Ned, both in the office and in the operating rooms of the Community and Monterey Hospitals, where he assisted Ned in surgery. It was in an operating room at the Monterey Hospital in May of 1946 that tragedy struck the Carnazzo family. Dr. Bill was assisting his brother doing a gall bladder surgery on one of their patients, when Ned suffered a stroke and was taken by staff to the Intensive Care Unit, leaving Bill to finish the surgery. Ned died the next day of complications from the stroke, leaving Fina with five young children in their home on Clay Street. It was a real blessing that my dad and mom and our family lived close by on upper Franklin Street, as the two families were always very close emotionally and physically. Both families drew even closer together after Uncle Ned's death. Dr. Bill was then instrumental in bringing their parents and grandparents out here from Omaha to live on the same property with Aunt Fina and their kids,a real blessing to both families.
The office practice eventually moved from Alvarado Street to a new building at 464 Pacific Street in Monterey, and soon, Uncle Ned's oldest son, Bill, enrolled in Creighton's medical school and followed the same path as his dad and uncle. After his graduation and internship, he too joined Dr. Bill and Dr. Cuva in Monterey. He worked together with Dr. Bill until approximately 1970, when he decided he wanted to become a surgeon like his father and left the practice to enroll in a four-year surgical residency program. He made his decision to leave the practice, knowing that I was nearing completion of my medical-school training, also at Creighton University. I did, indeed,graduate with my medical degree in June of 1969, but had committed, in my junior year, to the United States Navy for three years as a naval doctor after I graduated from medical school.
Prior to enrolling at Creighton, I spent four years at the University of Southern California, graduating in 1965 with a Bachelor of Science degree. Geraldine Giammanco, the love of my life, and I were married June 7, 1964; and after my USC graduation, we drove together to Omaha where I began my own medical education in September 1965. During my four years at Creighton Medical School, our two children, Jeffrey and Daniel, were born, and they brought total joy into our lives.
After graduation I was assigned to the US Naval Hospital in St. Albans, New York, for my internship for one year. After completion of my internship, I was assigned to a destroyer squadron out of Long Beach, California, and after two years of active duty, including a nine-month tour in Viet Nam, I retired from the Navy in 1972. My lovely wife Gerry and both of our children had moved back to Monterey to be near our families while I was in Viet Nam, and after I left the Navy, I joined them here at home. After getting settled, I joined Dr. Bill, Dr. Charlie, and his son Dr. Bob, also a dentist, in the Pacific Street office to work with my father in his large Family Practice. This was one of the best decisions of my life.
Dad and I were a real team, working side by side, learning so much from each other, consulting with each other about the many aspects of care for our patients not only in the office but on our joint hospital visits with them. He taught me a great deal about the "art" of medicine and about his love and compassion for each and every patient and family he cared for. He guided me expertly and lovingly about caring for the health and well-being of the young and the elderly patients,as well as the privilege of seeing them in their own homes and in the hospitals when needed. I cannot say enough about my dad's personal and medical skills and abilities. He taught me so much about medicine over the wonderful 23 years we practiced together.
Dr. Bill became a sideline physician for several years for the football teams from Monterey High School and Monterey Peninsula College on Friday and Saturday nights when the games were "home games”. For a while, he also did some medical work on Cannery Row for the City of Monterey and even once met John Steinbeck while working there.
Dr. Bill's life was not just about medicine. He was an excellent golfer, a sport he learned and taught to all of us kids and a sport we've passed down to our own kids as well. He became a part of a large group of golfing friends with whom he played regularly and socialized with as well. He was a man of great faith and attended San Carlos Catholic Cathedral regularly with his family and parents, along with being an active parishioner. He donated time to community activities during the early years of his practice, including becoming a member of the school board for the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District. He was, in this capacity, very instrumental in the inception of Monterey Peninsula College. Dad was an awesome husband to my mom, a great father to all of his kids--Bill, an attorney; me, a doctor; Carol, a teacher, and Gigi, an attorney--and a real mentor to all of us. He taught all of us about love of God, love for each other, love for our neighbors and friends and love and respect for all our family. He was an absolutely amazing and loving man.
We tragically lost our mom in 1974 at the age of 60 from acute leukemia. Dad was so lost after her passing but continued to work with me in the office, as all of us and our entire family rallied around him and helped him get through that terrible time. Several years later he married a lovely lady, Betty, and happily shared the remainder of his life then with two families.
As time passed and Dr. Bill grew older, he developed his own medical issues that caused him to retire from his medical practice in 1995. Our office staff and I gave him a "gift" on his last day in the office, arranging for him to see as his last patient the very same first patient he saw when he joined Dr.Charles Cuva in 1939.He and his patient both truly treasured that wonderful visit. It was a sad but equally joyful time for all of us in the office that day. Dr. Bill Carnazzo passed away on June 19, 2003, but he will always remain in our hearts. He was a truly wonderful father to his family and a faithful friend and doctor for so many. Monterey was, indeed, fortunate to have had him as one of their own.