Union Democrat staff

How many times have you wished you had talked to your grandmother more before she passed on? Or had taken the time to sit down with an aging neighbor born and raised next door? Or had interviewed that veteran teacher to learn what your hometown was like decades ago?

Now, you may lament, their colorful, instructive stories are lost.

But thanks to Otis Rosasco, patriarch of a pioneer ranching family, and to Columbia College, all is not lost. Not only that, but the invaluable parts of our community's past they have saved are now widely available:

• In the just-published "Early Day Tuolumne County Cattlemen: 140 Years of Rosasco Ranching," Otis Rosasco draws on his family's nearly century-and-a-half on foothill and mountain pastures to tell a fascinating tale that rivals the sweeping epics of Texas or Montana. The handsome, lavishly illustrated 150-page book is available at the Tuolumne County Museum, 158 Bradford St., Sonora, for $30 ($25 for Historical Society members).

• The college library has released its extensive oral history collection online at columbia.yosemite.cc.ca.

us/library/. With some 200 hours of interviews recorded as early as 1949, the collection is a unique asset. Now anyone with a computer can, at least figuratively, sit down with some of the most fascinating personalities from the community's past.

The Tuolumne County Historical Society also deserves credit, as it is publishing Otis Rosasco's book and has contributed its own recorded interviews to the college's online archive.

For history buffs who prefer logs to words, check out the Sonora Youth Center on the city's Barretta Street. Nominated by the Tuolumne Heritage Committee, the log-built, 70-year-old Youth Center has been named to the National Register of Historic Places.

For a community that depends on its colorful past to lure visitors and business here, these are key and positive developments.

History sells, numerous economic studies have shown, and every brick and story saved from our past can be a building block for a better economic future. "Heritage economy," the Sierra Business Council calls it.

For their foresight and commitment, Rosasco, retired Columbia College history professor Richard Dyer, College Librarian Brian Greene and Sharon Marovich, chairwoman of both the Historical Society's publications committee and the county Heritage Committee, should be commended.

Rosasco, 88, retired only five years ago and has used that time to write what he first envisioned as a multi-generational family history dating back to 1870, when the first Rosascos came from Italy to the pastures of western Tuolumne County. But his manuscript was so well researched and so rich in detail and stories from the county's ranching past that Otis's friend, County Historian Carlo De Ferrari, urged him to publish it.

"An enormous contribution to the written history of our cattle industry," Marovich calls the book.

Back in the early 1970s, Dick Dyer began doing what the rest of us kick ourselves for not doing: interviewing county oldtimers. Over many years, students in his Mother Lode History class recorded hours of interviews with the likes of legendary sheriff Miller Sardella, Chief William Fuller, Archie Stevenot and Geraldine McConnell, who first envisioned formation of Columbia State Historic Park.

Although always archived, the interviews have gone online through a grant from the Wise Family Charitable Trust and with a lot of work by librarian Greene, as well as by college students and staff members.

Tuolumne County may look much the same as it did a few months ago, but we are all richer thanks to those who have worked tirelessly to preserve our fascinating heritage and make it widely available.