Original article in the Napa Register.
Ralph Anzellotti retired to Napa five years ago, but he isn’t spending his days basking in the Napa Valley lifestyle like some might expect.
Rather than sipping the latest vintages while taking in wine country views, Anzellotti, 67, spends his free time on his hands and knees fixing leaky toilets, repairing broken drawers and doing whatever else low income seniors in Napa County may need done around the house. It might not be the version of a Napa Valley retirement most people think of, but Anzellotti says he enjoys helping others even if it means getting his hands dirty.
His desire to make a difference in the community led him to Share the Care, a network of volunteers that offers assistance and resources to senior citizens in need.
“All the volunteers at Share the Care have a particular skill set – a specialty – something they really like to do, so when someone calls asking for help, we typically have someone we can send out or we know where to direct them,” Anzellotti said. “When I signed on to help, I became the fix-it guy.”
Share the Care Director Yvonne Baginski said she was excited to have Anzellotti on board.
“We often got calls from people needing small things done around their home, but they just couldn’t afford the services or didn’t have the knowledge of who to hire as a handyman,” Baginski said. “As Share the Care’s home repair handyman, Ralph has helped expand our reach into the community.”
As Share the Care’s resident Mr. Fix It, you’d think Anzellotti has decades of experience in home repair, but he is a self-taught handyman. He retired from a career in sales and marketing – not home maintenance.
Anzellotti owns property in Oregon where he used to live before coming to Napa, and as a landlord, he realized it was easier to learn how to make household repairs on his own rather than hire people to come in and fix every little thing. As the years went on, Anzellotti learned how to take on most basic home repairs by talking to people at hardware stores and watching videos on YouTube.
When Anzellotti and his wife Linda moved to Napa, he spent the first year keeping busy by fixing things around their house, but as he knocked things off his to-do list, he began wondering what to do with his time. His wife suggested getting a part time job at a winery – which he did – but he was still looking for something else to do with his newfound free time.
“I don’t really like to just sit around,” Anzellotti said. “I like to tinker. I like to know how things work. I’m still not sure I consider myself a handyman, but I do enjoy fixing things, and I’m pretty good at it.”
Regardless of what title Anzellotti prefers for himself, Ruth Marsh is a fan of his work.
Marsh, a Napa resident, reached out to Share the Care because she noticed her water bill had gone up unexpectedly, and she was afraid she might have a leaky pipe. Anzellotti was sent out to investigate.
“Ralph is absolutely wonderful,” Marsh said. “He’s fixed both of my toilets. I can’t imagine anyone who would want to spend their retirement going around fixing other people’s toilets, but he sure is nice to have around.”
Anzellotti said he never knows what to expect when he makes visits on behalf of Share the Care, so he brings two toolboxes when he makes house calls. If it turns out he needs a special part, he takes a quick trip to a local hardware store to get what he needs. But not all repairs are that easy.
Anzellotti was sent to help a man who reported his back door lock was broken. Upon inspection, Anzellotti determined the lock was too old and rusted to be repaired, but replacing the lock wasn’t going to be easy.
“The back door was the original that came with the mobile home in the 1960s,” Anzellotti said. “I looked up the lock manufacturer online, but they’d gone out of business. No one made that lock anymore, so I knew I was going to have to get creative.”
It took some detective work, but Anzellotti eventually sought the help of an RV salesman who was able to sell him a lock he could modify to install at the mobile home.
“That was a tough one,” Anzellotti said. “I’ve come across that type of thing at a few of the homes I’ve visited. Sometimes in the older houses, the parts you need to fix what’s in need of repair don’t exist anymore, so I have to figure out a way to jimmy-rig something to make it work.
“In the case with the mobile home, I’m just glad I was able to figure it out because about three weeks later I got a call that the front door lock was broken. That time it only took me about 45 minutes to replace the lock, which was a lot easier than the three hours it took the first time.”
Anzellotti is known as a jack of all trades, but his latest specialty is installing grab bars in showers. When the Area Agency On Aging, serving senior citizens of Napa and Solano counties, folded this summer, the organization’s fall prevention program was suspended and wasn’t adopted by any other service agencies in the area. One of the services offered through the fall prevention program was the free installation of grab bars, which give seniors a handhold to use for stability when getting in and out of the shower.
Share the Care’s Baginski asked Anzellotti if he could learn to install grab bars in an effort to keep the fall prevention program going until a more permanent option could be found.
Anzellotti consulted with the man who used to install the grab bars for Area Agency On Aging and brought the special equipment to drill through tile. He practiced drilling holes in spare tiles he had at home before making his first house call.
“It’s a little nerve wracking,” Anzellotti said. “Drilling a hole in tile, it takes patience and a steady hand. It can take three to five minutes to drill a hole in tile unlike drilling a hole in a wall which takes no time at all. I was nervous the first few times I went out, but I’m getting more confident each time I do it. I’ve probably installed a dozen grab bars in the past four months.”
Anzellotti installed a grab bar at Darlene McDannald’s home in St. Helena, and she said the addition of a grab bar in her shower has been a life saver. McDannald broke a bone in each of her hips when she fell earlier this year. She gets around with a cane these days, but the grab bar allows her to get in and out of the shower without assistance from her husband, who used to have to help her.
“It’s really helped me a lot,” McDannald said. “The difference is night and day. It makes me feel so much better knowing that I can do this for myself. I was in really bad shape for a while. Ralph, he helped me out and it’s made such a difference.”
Anzellotti said he doesn’t mind filling in as Napa County’s unofficial fall preventions specialist. He said he’s glad he’s learned a new skill he can use to help make people’s lives a little easier.
“Knowing that I’m helping someone gain a sense of independence in their lives is an incredibly rewarding feeling,” Anzellotti said.