Stefanie Olivieri – A True Woman of the Mountains
October 20, 2005
You might be a Truckee local if:
A. You learned how to ski at Hilltop.
B. You know Sandy Poulson on a first-name basis, have attended her birthday party, and actually know when her birthday is.
C. Your fondest memory of Truckee is not the last 10-foot storm, but is watching, hearing, and experiencing sheep and cattle herders driving hundreds of livestock through the heart of downtown on their way to summer pastures in the Stampede, Boca, Prosser or Martis meadows.
How about all of the above?
Stephanie Olivieri, owner of Cabona’s Clothing since 1967, fits the aforementioned criteria and much more. She has lived in Truckee all of her life, well mostly. Technically, she was born in Tahoe City on the kitchen table at the Pfeifer House Restaurant, but since then she’s been a Truckee local.
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“I have a tremendous appetite, and I think it’s all because of that,” the 63-year-old jokes over a virgin Mojito at the Pianeta bar. “I just love food in general. No particular dish.” A bartender overhears our conversation and pipes in that Olivieri loves Pianeta’s specials, she agrees adding the pork tenderloin and lamb are her favorites.
Olivieri gives off the aura that she is home, sitting next to her you feel more grounded yourself, as if you weren’t just another nomadic journalist on the way to your next greener pasture.
Her bright blue eyes come alive as childhood memories flow like rushing water, about what life was like growing up in the little town of Truckee, population 500 or so.
“It was a wonderful place to live,” she says. “We knew the name of every person who lived in every house, it was a very special experience. We knew the dog’s name, we knew what the husband did. My brother had a job delivering the Sac Bee, but when he wasn’t around I’d deliver for him and you had to know where to put the paper at each house so that the dog didn’t get it.”
From delivering newspapers, owning lemonade stands, hemming slacks, gift wrapping, and even publishing her own short-lived little newspaper, The Gateway Gazette, Olivieri had her nose to the grindstone almost before she was even in school.
She started working at Cabona’s, the oldest retail establishment in Truckee, when she was only 9.
“I always loved it,” she says. “I begged my mother to let me come down and work when I was 9.”
Her first job was wrapping presents at Christmas time and from there she was promoted to washing hangers and ironing the ruffles of children’s dresses. But it wasn’t until the age of 13 that Olivieri really got her taste of the real world ” small claims court.
“I started going to small claims court,” she recalls. “My job was to post the charges that were sold for the day and post the payments that people made on their accounts and when people didn’t pay their accounts and we had tried to talk to them about it and they still didn’t pay, I had to go to the small claims court.”
The ambitious businesswoman continued to work at Cabona’s through high school and went on to study business at San Francisco State University. Then, one day she returned home for a visit in 1963 to a completely different Truckee.
“They took Donner Creek and moved it out of the middle of the meadow so they could build the freeway,” she said, her voice nearly trembling. “I was heartsick. It’s very hard for me emotionally to see such destruction of such a beautiful place. It’s heartbreaking. People wonder sometimes why I am so adamant about good change. You have to know what was here, to know what was lost.”
Olivieri admits that her point of view about development and growth hasn’t always been popular, in fact, it’s been mostly controversial.
But that didn’t stop her from speaking her mind.
“I’m not opposed growth, a lot of people think I am. You can’t stop growth, it’s going to happen. But I think what has been most disappointing to me is what we’ve allowed growth to look like,” she says. “The face of growth could have been so different if we’d been more visionary in our planning.”
Olivieri joined up with a group of other like-minded individuals to crusade against the destruction of Truckee’s last natural existing meadow, Martis Valley, and started MAPF, Mountain Area Preservation Foundation.
MAPF has worked hard over the last few years to see the valley remain as close to its natural state as it can with an airport, a busy highway intersecting it and a dam at one end.
“Martis Valley used to be covered with cattle grazing,” Olivieri recalls. “There were no sounds except for the sounds of bees and crickets, grasshoppers and birds. It was beautiful.”
In addition to her involvement and success with MAPF, which has negotiated conservation easements over hundreds of acres and transfer fees for millions of dollars for acquisition of land to be preserved in permanent open space, Olivieri has donated 44 acres of her own 80-acre ranch to the Truckee Donner Land Trust for a conservation easement, which can never be developed. There are plans to include 60 acres total in this trust.
She has also served three years on the Tahoe Forest Hospital Board as well as being President of Truckee Downtown Merchants who continually strive to beautify the downtown corridor as well as support the popular Truckee Follies, in which Olivieri co-hosted a lively newscast spoof with attorneys Jim Simon and Jim Porter for a decade.
Store owner, environmentalist, friend and local legend, Olivieri says with a smile 20 years younger than she is that she’ll live her life out in Truckee, there’s no place like home.