The life of Howard Sihner was celebrated with a group of his friends and family in an outdoor gathering held at his Elk Grove home on Oct. 10.
Sihner, who died at the age of 85 on Aug. 7, lived in Elk Grove for nearly a half-century, during which time he gained recognition for his volunteerism.
He was a regular Dickens Street Faire volunteer, grange master of Elk Grove Grange #86 (today’s Elk Grove Guild) and president of the Old Elk Grove Foundation.
Sihner’s many honors included being named the Co-Volunteer of the Year, in 2009, and honorary grand marshal of the 2010 Elk Grove Western Festival parade.
His career included serving as a mortician, Sacramento County deputy coroner, and a criminal investigator for the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office.
Sihner was also a horseman, bull rider, hay baler, antique carriage collector, and California Army National Guard veteran.
His memorial service included speeches, songs, scripture reading, a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, and a performance by a bagpipe player.
Sacramento County Supervisor Don Nottoli shared his memories of Sihner, who he met about 40 years ago.
“I first met him when I came to work with (former Supervisor) Toby Johnson,” he said. “(Sihner) was always engaged in the community.
“He was one of those folks that was a real foundational stone for the community, both in a historical (manner) and in everyday life to advance good projects and provide leadership. But he was low-key. He wasn’t one of those who was looking for the (spotlight), but he got things done.”
Former Elk Grove Planning Commissioner Frank Maita recalled forming a bonding friendship with Sihner.
“I met him 15 or 20 years ago,” he said. “He became active through the Grange with the Old Town Foundation. We just sort of hit it off. We had a lot of similar interests, a background in agriculture, and horses and cattle and hay. We both were in the commercial hay business. We had a lot we could talk about.”
Ron Brusato, who met Sihner in mortuary college in 1957, related a humorous story about Sihner.
“He went to the dentist one time, and he took out his gun and he laid it on his chest,” he said. “And the dentist came in and Howard said, ‘I won’t hurt you, if you don’t hurt me.’ That’s a true story.”
Brusato added that Sihner was a guy that “if you needed something, you wouldn’t have to ask.”
Lori Pluto, the daughter of Howard Sihner, said that her father was described by his friends through many words.
“Strength, loyalty, honesty, dedication, internal fortitude, a certain amount of defiance, love, understanding,” she said. “My dad taught me three lessons in life that I still deal with, and that’s you don’t candy-coat stuff, you deal from the hip, and don’t do anything to anybody that you would be upset if they did it to you.”
Ann Huckaby, godchild of Sihner and his wife, Jonnie, described Sihner as a man who was a very giving person.
“He was more of a dad to me than my dad kind of thing, and just a big part of my life,” she said.
Sihner’s niece, Joanne McFall, described Sihner as “Superman.”
“He was just a gentle giant,” she said. “He had so many great stories and he never passed judgment on anybody. He loved his family. He took care of his dad, then my grandmother and then my grandfather. It was just open door, open door. (He was) amazing.”
Pastor Jay Reed of the Light of the Valley Lutheran Church in Elk Grove referred to Sihner as a man who spoke deeply, “both faith-wise and (with) wisdom.”
“He would always lean in on the way out of church and say something (inspirational), and it was like, ‘Man, I should have had that in my sermon.’ He was a good theologian. He lived his faith in a number of different ways, not just in church, the way he loved other people and served other people.”
Jazzie Pluto, Sihner’s granddaughter, referred to Sihner as a “strong, strong man.”
She also spoke about her memories of having conversations with him about his garden and his love for a good, home-cooked meal.
“One of his favorite meals that I was able to cook for him was steak and mushrooms, and he absolutely loved the mushrooms,” she said. “So, that was a good (memory).”
Jazzie’s son, 6-year-old Toby Pluto, spoke about his great-grandfather as a man who was the “best person,” who always gave him that “good handshake.”
“He was a nice, good man, as always,” he said.
Former Elk Grove resident Sherry McKinney also spoke fondly about Sihner, who she met 40 years ago.
“The thing that I remember most about Howard is that I’ve never heard him say a (negative) word about anybody in any circumstance,” she said. “He was the kindest, nicest man I’ve ever known.”