Rose Garden PhotographsMargherita “Nonna” (Mariani) Gilardi was born in Bre, Lugano, Switzerland, on July 21, 1885, to Giovanni and Apollonia Mariani. In 1903, Margherita met and married Eliseo Gilardi, who had returned to his native Switzerland after becoming discouraged as a prospector in the Arizona Territory. Eliseo returned there in 1905 and went to work at the Senator Mine in Yavapai County, leaving Margherita with a baby daughter. Within a few years, he had saved enough money to pay for the passage of 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 met two men who were speaking Italian. They helped her to board the Southern Pacific; she and Leonita landed in Phoenix, Maricopa County. Then they took the Santa Fe to Prescott, Yavapai County, where Eliseo met them at the depot in 1907.

Their second daughter, Florida, was born at Maxton, which was also called Senator, on April 18, 1908. When the mine closed, the family moved 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. Margherita joined the Sacred Heart Church in Prescott.  He bought a café near the old Rex Arms Hotel, expecting Margherita to manage it, but after she refused, it was sold. At that point, they moved to Trinidad, Colorado, where Eliseo 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 Verde Valley and went into business with Margherita’s brother in the Clarkdale Dairy. At about this time, Margherita concluded that Eliseo lacked a head for business, and she took over the finances. Everyone pitched in and helped in the dairy, 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 began a communal arrangement, 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 forty-seven acres on Hassayampa Trail (now White Spar Road) and began construction of a house and barn.

The family designed a very large home with seven bedrooms, two dining rooms, a big basement for laundry, a recreation room, a wine cellar and cedar closets. Because of its size, townspeople and the family always referred to the Savoini-Fornara home as “The Big House” at 601 White Spar Road. After the home was finished on July 4, 1941, there was a big celebration and barbeque. This began a Fourth of July tradition that continued for many years.

From this location the Savoinis and Fornaras operated the Hassayampa Dairy. During the World War II labor shortage, Margherita, then in her sixties, rolled up her sleeves and helped with the milking. The business evolved into the Hassaympa Market, a convenience store of one room that grew into a big market, serving the community until 1979.

The dairy was phased out after World War II, and the family began selling dairy products on the premises. Margherita, matriarch of the Fornara and Savoini families, died on January 8, 1986, at the age of 100. 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 Territorial Women’s Memorial Rose Garden.

Donor: Anna Mary (Fornara) Olsen, granddaughter, June 2006
Photo Located: Yavapai County People & Family Collection – F-Fornara Family
Updated: 11/19/2015, D. Sue Kissel