Olga Martin Steele and Christina Paleno Erickson at the Estate Sale
Over forty years ago, Gene Paleno and the love of his life bought some land just north of Upper Lake in Bachelor Valley. On a hill that rose above the valley floor, they built a dream home, painted it bright yellow, and called it “Rainbow’s End”. There Gene and Jeanette spent the rest of their lives following their dreams, raising cattle, and doing just about everything in between. In early 2021, nearly a decade after his wife passed, Gene left this world, leaving a massive legacy. He was the first to believe in The Bloom and the first to offer his support to us. He also gave the best advice, which he exemplified. Over and over, Gene told me, “The only thing that people will remember you or me for is what we have done for other people.” And his memory will not be forgotten, thanks to the work of The Silver Foundation in creating the Gene Paleno Memorial Fund.
Earlier this month, the Silver Foundation held an estate sale at Gene’s home. I showed up at 9:00 on Saturday morning and walked up the hill to the faded, but still bright yellow, house. At first, it was a bit of a shock to see the place half-emptied; no books on the shelves, no artwork on the walls, and, hardest of all, no Gene to greet me with a big smile and huge handshake.
But his daughter Christina Paleno Erickson was there, answering questions and walking back and forth between the kitchen and living room, showing people some of the items on sale.
“I loved your father dearly,” I told her after we greeted each other.
“In so many ways, he was, and is, my hero,” she said. Her eyes lit up, just like her father’s. I knew what she meant; Gene had a way about him. He didn’t just talk; he lived his life sincerely.
“I was hoping to find something to remember him by,” I said, looking around the house. “Nothing big, but something.”
Christina looked around, a furrow in her brow. Much of the items were large; dressers, furniture, and tables. “Let me see if I can find something,” she said. At that moment, Olga Martin Steele from the Silver Foundation asked her a question from the living room, and Christina excused herself to talk with her.
Olga and her husband Jim are the visionaries behind the Silver Foundation, an organization created to help impoverished and isolated seniors. “We have sponsored programs to issue gas/gift cards to seniors, masks in the initial phases of COVID, help with funeral costs, holiday gift bags (in partnership with Sutter Lakeside Hospital), and support for meals on wheels programs,” Olga shared with me via email a few days after the estate sale. “We also have a dedicated fund to support seniors with their companion pets, but this fund is depleting, and we hope to keep it going.
“As for the Memorial Fund,” she continued, “Gene was a strong supporter of seniors and pets. He found great joy and companionship from Cleo, the cat he adopted after losing his wife. He appreciated the value of companionship pets who fill a space in the lives of many lonely seniors. Gene also wanted to support seniors with “gap” funding. We often get requests from seniors who have a one-time need, but we haven’t had the funds to honor many of those requests. Seniors need extra help with costs associated with expensive medical/surgical procedures for their companion pets, or a little help with rent or utilities due to a one-time hardship.
“We have, thus far, raised $2415.00, from the estate sale and a few other donations to build the dedicated memorial fund. To be sure, all funds raised for the Gene Paleno Memorial Fund will be used to support seniors in the way Gene would have wanted.”
Back at the estate sale, I wandered down to the shop, where Gene had created many of his beautiful ceramic items. Three years earlier, he had described the process to me; how he carved each piece, made a mold, painted, and fired each one. The garage still held boxes of clay, a few molds, and a massive kiln. I poked around, but a solid block of clay just didn’t speak to me of Gene.
A few minutes earlier, Christina had come down to the garage with someone else to show them the kiln. As she talked about her father, the person discovered two small, unfired cars Gene had carved hidden on a shelf. “Oh,” Christina said, “Those are important. I didn’t mean to have them for sale.” The woman graciously handed them over, and Christina turned to me. “Look,” she said, holding the to 1950’s era Corvettes in the palm of one hand. “I think these were salt and pepper shakers he was making.” She flips them over. “You can see the small holes in front where the salt came out.” They’re off-white; Gene hadn’t gotten to painting them yet, but with a close look, I can still see where his knife had carved the models.
Then, with a quick move, she takes one and slides it into my hand. I feel its rough texture, the swoop of the hood, the hole Gene left in the bottom to fill it will salt. I hold a tiny piece of his giant spirit.
Thank you, Christina, for that car. And thank you, Gene, for the beauty you gave to our world. With this foundation, your kindness and memory will live long.
If you never had a chance to meet Gene in his lifetime, it’s not too late to get to know him. Read the profile we wrote in The Bloom and a reminiscence of his passing. They’re both well worth the time.
And for more information about the Silver Foundation and its mission to help seniors in Lake County, visit their Facebook page.
Soon the Silver Foundation will be holding its annual Senior Summit, which fills another key goal of the Foundation: to recognize and appreciate seniors, highlighting their past, present, and future achievements in support of their communities. The annual Senior Summit – a 1-day conference-style event including a lunch, inspirational senior awards, a health and wellness fair, keynote speakers, and workshops – has become a much looked-forward-to event. The 4th annual summit will be scheduled as soon as it is possible to host a large gathering safely.