There are only two known survivors of the 1906 earthquake that devastated San Francisco more than a century ago. Friday, San Francisco’s fire chief made a special visit to the North Bay to celebrate the 108th birthday of one of those survivors.
Bill Del Monte never thought he would live to see his 108th year.
“It’s something I just can’t believe,” Del Monte said.
A lot can change in 108 years. Friends and family members have come and gone, and he has watched the San Francisco that burned in the earthquake more than a century ago, when he was just three months old, rebuild and transform.
“It wasn’t too much of a city then, but it sure is now,” Del Monte said.
Del Monte never had children, and his wife died more than 20 years ago.
He now lives in a retirement home in Greenbrae. That’s where San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White met him on Friday for lunch, catered by John’s Grill.
Over some steaks and a glass of scotch, Del Monte recalled his mother’s memory of the moments after the 1906 quake, when he was just a baby.
"My mother in the kitchen, she put the table cloth around me, wrapped it around me as a bundle, and put me on a cart and went we down Broadway Street to the ferry," Del Monte said. “There was fire on both sides of the street.”
Hayes-White said Del Monte is not just a connection to San Francisco’s past. He reminds us all how to live a long, satisfying life.
“Just his love for life, living day by day, not taking things for granted, but just appreciating life in the moment,” Hayes-White said. “He gives me that. He’s a true gift.”
As for a secret to longevity, Del Monte said, there is no real secret. He’s just taking life as it comes.
“Live and enjoy it while you’re here,” Del Monte said. “Even though it’s a long time, when you’re gone, you’re gone.”
Del Monte said he is not planning to attend the ceremony at Lotta’s Fountain on Market Street in April to mark the 108th anniversary of the quake, so he taped a video message that will be shown.
The ceremony happens April 18 at 5:13 a.m. Del Monte and the only other survivor, 112-year-old Ruth Newman, said they would both rather sleep in this year.