Territorial Women's Memorial Rose Garden

Margherita “Nonna” Mariani was born in Bre, Lugano, Switzerland, on July 21, 1885, to Giovanni and Apollonia Mariana. In 1903, Margherita met and married Eliseo Gilardi, who returned to his native Switzerland after becoming discouraged as a prospector in Arizona.

Eliseo returned to Arizona in 1905, leaving Magherita with a baby daughter, and went to work at the Senator Mine. He saved enough money to pay for Margherita and two-year-old Leonita, as well as the $200 required by the Immigration Department at Ellis Island.

As Margherita came by ship to New York, she learned to speak only two words of English, “baby” and “milk.” When she reached Chicago, she found a couple of men who were speaking Italian. They offered to get her on a train, which turned out to be the Southern Pacific. So she and Leonita landed in Phoenix, then took the Santa Fe to Prescott, where Eliseo met them at the depot in 1907. Festivities attendant to the unveiling of the Buckey O’Neill statue were in progress when she arrived.

The Gilardi’s second daughter, Florida, was born at Maxton, Arizona Territory, on April 18, 1908. When the mine closed, Eliseo moved his family into a boarding house at Granite and Gurley streets in Prescott, where their third daughter, Elvezia, was born on June 8, 1910.

Eliseo went to work as a bricklayer on the new Arizona Pioneers’ Home. He bought a café near the old Rex Arms Hotel, expecting Margherita to manage it. She refused. So the café was sold. Eliseo 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 Eliseo worked briefly for the Santa Fe Railroad as a bricklayer in the roundhouse. In 1922, they moved to the Verde Valley where they went into business with Margherita’s brother in the Clarkdale Dairy.

At about this time, Margherita concluded that Eliseo did not have a business head, and she took over the finances. Everyone pitched in and helped in the diary, including the girls.

Eliseo died in 1929, leaving Margherita a widow with three daughters. She and her son-in-law bought the Verde District Dairy in 1932, and a communal arrangement began, shared by Margherita, her daughters, their husbands and their children. The combined family moved back to Prescott and bought 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.

Family folklore says that the women (and the men) laid boards on the ground, showing the house plan they wanted built. The home had seven bedrooms, two dining rooms, a big basement for laundry, a recreation room, a wine cellar and cedar closets.

Because of its size, it was given a nickname, and the townspeople as well as the family always referred to the Savoini-Fornara home as “The Big House” at 601 White Spar Road. The home was finished on July 4, 1941. On that day and on every Fourth of July thereafter for many years, there was a big celebration and barbecue to commemorate the completion of the home.

It was at this location that the Savoinis and Fornaras operated the Hassayampa Dairy. In the early years during the cold winter months, as Margherita and her son-in-law milked, separated and bottled the milk, they drank aro sumada, a mixture or raw eggs and wine. It helped to warm them up.

During World War II, there was no one to come in and milk the dairy cows. Margherita, at that time in her 60s, rolled up her sleeves and went right out with the men and helped with the milking. The business evolved into the Hassaympa Market, a convenience store of one little room that grew into quite a big market and served the community until 1979.

The dairy was phased out after World War II, and the family began selling milk, cream and buttermilk on the premises. Margherita, matriarch of the Fornara and Savoini families, died on January 8, 1986, at the age of 100. She was a stalwart member of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Prescott. Her husband’s body had been moved from the Cottonwood Cemetery to Mountain View Cemetery in Prescott, and she was buried with him in the family plot.

Margherita’s daughters Leonita Gilardi Savoini, Florida Gilardi Fornara and Elvezia Gilardi Fornara are also commemorated in the Rose Garden.

Donor: granddaughter, Anna Mary Fornara Olsen
June 2006

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