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John F. Reginato, 89; he helped introduce house boating to West

August 18, 2007|Valerie J. Nelson | Times Staff Writer

John F. Reginato, an early and enduring promoter of Northern California tourism who helped introduce house boating to the West by suggesting more than half a century ago that "campers with pontoons" would make Shasta Lake prosper, has died. He was 89.

Reginato died July 28 at a hospice in Tacoma, Wash., after a series of strokes and heart attacks, said his son, John. Reginato had lived in Redding from 1949 until moving to Gig Harbor, Wash., last year to be near his son.

Born on the banks of the Sacramento River in 1918, Reginato returned to the Northern California of his youth in 1949 to oversee the Shasta-Cascade Wonderland Assn., which promotes tourism and recreation in the northeastern part of the state. He kept the job for 41 years.

"I guess I would have rather eaten beans in Redding than caviar in Chicago," Reginato later said after shunning better-paying big-city jobs for a career that allowed him to revel in the outdoors.

While he served in World War II, a massive dam was built in the path of the Sacramento River that largely created Shasta Lake, which would become one of the state's largest aquatic playgrounds.

"Recreation was just becoming an important part of people's lives after the war, and John saw some great opportunities in Shasta Lake," said Bob Warren, who followed Reginato as general manager of the tourism bureau.

Convinced that houseboats would lure tourists, he talked the owners of the lake's first marina into buying two barges in the early 1950s. Today, Shasta Lake bills itself as the "house boating capital of the world" with more than 450 available for rent.

As a pioneering advocate for outdoor recreation, Reginato helped establish the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area west of Redding when he persuaded government officials in the early 1960s that it could be a "major recreation area," Warren said.

Reginato was also an early proponent of California's "rails to trails" movement, helping create two hiking trails out of abandoned rail lines: the Bizz Johnson Trail near Susanville and the Sacramento River Trail in Redding.

"He meant so much to the economic development of the region," Steve Gaines, president of the tourism bureau, said in a statement. "He was ahead of his time."

John Franklin Reginato was born in Delta, north of Redding, the second of two sons of Italian immigrants. His father, Louis, was a railroad worker, and his mother, Maria, died in a kitchen fire when he was about 6. A year later, his father married his wife's sister, Gilda.

After graduating from high school in 1935, Reginato attended Modesto Junior College and earned $18 a week as a local newspaper reporter.

His journalism studies at the University of Missouri were interrupted by World War II. He spent three years in the Army Air Forces arranging entertainment for the troops and teaching physical training.

Back in Missouri, Reginato again played football for the university and graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1947. He worked for a San Francisco sports advertising agency before joining the Shasta-Cascade Wonderland Assn.

The job required him to cajole writers into going on outdoor expeditions, and he basked in the relationships he formed, his son said.

His efforts inspired thousands to fish, boat, hunt and camp in Northern California, according to the California Outdoors Hall of Fame, which added him to its rolls in 2004.

In addition to his son, Reginato is survived by his wife of 57 years, Elizabeth; a daughter, Patricia Schmidtmann of Thermopolis, Wyo.; and three grandchildren.

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valerie.nelson@latimes.com

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