Former Santa Rosa Mayor, Charles “Chops” DeMeo, who turned 90 last year but kept working as r an attorney and banker, died early Saturday, May 06, 1995.
DeMeo was a self-made man who grew up in Santa Rosa as one of six children of Italian immigrants, worked his way through school and became a community pillar. If he had one regret, it was that he hadn’t had a stronger throwing arm and higher batting average.
Recalled nephew Jack DeMeo, also a Santa Rosa attorney, “One of the last things he said to me was, ‘I always wanted to be a good baseball player.'”
Jack DeMeo said his uncle had been a good player in fact, and had played baseball while attending Santa Rosa Junior College in the 1920s, and softball until about age 40.
Charles DeMeo was born in San Francisco in 1904 and was 1 year old when his parents settled in the Little Italy section of Santa Rosa. After attending SRJC he went on to the University of California at Berkeley, then Boalt Hall.
He practiced law in Santa Rosa for decades as a partner to his brother, Nick, who died in 1992 at age 86. During the Depression, he was appointed a Federal Conciliation Commissioner charged with intervening on behalf of landowners whose farms were being foreclosed by banks.
“It was a position of high trust to be able to regulate all the banks and say, ‘Hey, you can’t throw Farmer Jones off his property,’ ” said Jack DeMeo.
Fellow lawyer Joe Rattigan of Santa Rosa remembered DeMeo as a good friend and able courtroom foe.
“He always demonstrated, all the way up to age 90, a very keen mind,” said Rattigan, a retired state senator and appeals court judge. He said he once opposed DeMeo in a civil trial and remembers a terrific struggle.
At the same time he helped run a prominent law firm, DeMeo became a force at City Hall and in the banking community. In 1948 he made an unsuccessful run for the state Senate.
After 14 years of boosting the construction of parks in Santa Rosa as a member of the city parks commission, DeMeo was elected to the City Council in 1964 the same year a rebellious builder named Hugh Codding was elected.
In 1966, the council elected him the city’s first mayor of Italian descent. He ran for a second council term in 1968 but he and fellow incumbent Jim Groom were upset by newcomers Jerry Poznanovich and John Downey.
As a banker, DeMeo had the distinction of founding the same savings-and-loan twice.
He was a founder of Santa Rosa-based Summit Savings and Loan Association. In the 1970s, DeMeo and his partners sold Summit to the company that owned Imperial Savings.
Later Imperial got into trouble and liquidated. Its former owners then told DeMeo he could have back the name “Summit Savings.”
So DeMeo re-established Summit and resumed his position as its board chairman. Current Summit president Reece Dorr said DeMeo had a great interest in arranging mortgage loans for prospective home buyers who had trouble finding loans elsewhere.
DeMeo was still chairman of the board at Summit and active in the operation when he died. “He went to a (board) meeting two weeks ago,” Jack DeMeo said.
For many years, Charles DeMeo chaired the board of trustees of the Sonoma Developmental Center, the former Sonoma State Hospital. He founded one of Santa Rosa’s 20-30 Clubs, was a charter member of the Santa Rosa Optimist Club, once headed fund raising for the Konocti Girl Scout Council and was past deputy governor of the Moose Lodge.
DeMeo’s wife, former longtime Pacific Telephone office supervisor Helene DeMeo, was 67 when she died 24 years ago. As a widower, DeMeo retired from law for a time but grew restless.
“I think he was just bored,” said Jack DeMeo. So Charles DeMeo opened a small law office on College Avenue and operated it, specializing in probate and conservatorships, until he fell ill last month.
He had been in Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital a bit more than a week when he died.
The DeMeos had no children. Daniels Chapel of the Roses is in charge of funeral arrangements, but a mortuary spokesman said Saturday a date and time for a service had not been set.
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