Territorial Women's Memorial Rose Garden

Leonita, “Nita”, daughter of Eliseo and Margherita Marianin Gilardi, was born in Bre, Lugano, Switzerland, on October 30, 1905. Her father had returned to his native Switzerland after becoming discouraged as a prospector in Arizona; there he met and married Nita's mother.

After the marriage, Eliseo laft his wife with baby Leonita and returned to Arizona. He went to work at the Senator Mine and saved enough money to pay passage for Margherita and two-year-old Nita. They came by ship to New York, then to Phoenix and on to Prescott by train, where Eliseo met them at the depot in 1907.

When the Senator Mine closed, Eliseo moved his family, which by then included daughter Florida, into a boardinghouse at Granite and Gurley streets in Prescott. Here their third daughter, Elezia, was born.

Eliseo went to work as a bricklayer on the new Arizona Pioneers’ Home, and then took his wife and daughters to Trinidad, Colorado, where he worked in the coal mines. About 1916, the Gilardis moved back to Prescott, and Elisoe worked briefly for the Santa Fe Railroad as a bricklayer in the roundhouse.

In 1922, the Gilardis moved to the Verde Valley, where they went into business with Leonita’s uncle in the Clarkdale Dairy. At about this time, Nita’s mother concluded that Nita’s father did not have a business head, and she took over the family and business finances. Everyone pitched in and helped in the dairy, including Leonita and her sisters.

In the Verde Valley, there was also the Jerome Dairy owned by six partners, including Costantino Savoini and Battista Fornara. The dairy people crossed paths frequently, and Constantino and Battista discovered Leonita and her sister Florida. Romance flourished, and the two couples had a double wedding on October 25, 1924.

Leonita’s father died in 1929, leaving her mother a widow. She and her sons-in-law bought the Verde District Dairy in 1932, and a communal living arrangement began. This was shared by Margherita, her three daughters, their husbands and their children.

In 1938, “Connie” and Nita moved to Prescott to manage the dairy. They lived in a home on Dameron Street in Prescott. The rest of the family moved back to Prescott and operated the Sanders Dairy on Ruth Street, which was on leased land. Unable to purchase the land, they bought 47 acres on Hassayampa Trail (now White Spar Road) and began construction of a house and barn When it was completed on July 4, 1941, Leonita and Connie moved in with her sisters and her mother.

It was at this location on Hassayampa Trail that the Savoinis and Fornaras operated the Hassayampa Dairy (and later a market) and raised their families. Leonita and Constantino had three sons: Joseph Lawrence, James Guido and Arthur Caesar.

Leonita was primarily a housewife. She did huge amounts of laundry, cleaning and cooking for her communal family. She worked double duty by going to the market and stocking shelves at night. But she was also civic minded and found time to devote to the Monday Club, the Elks Ladies, and the Republican Women's Club as well as being active in Sacred Heart Church.

Nita died on October 29, 1988, in Prescott. She was buried in Mountain View Cemetery.

Leonita’s mother, Margherita Mariani Gilardi, and her sisters Florida Gilardi Fornara and Elvezia Gilardi Fornara are also commemorated in the Memorial Rose Garden.

Donor: niece, Anna Mary Fornara Olsen
June 2006

Additional documentation and photographs may be available in the Sharlot Hall Museum Archives and Library.