In 1956, Orestes De Gottardi restored a horse-drawn hearse for Reis Chapel Museum.
In 1993, when De Gottardi died at the age of 100, Gene Reis and Chad Noland drove him to his final resting place in that hearse.
Gene Reis was to be the last person to take the final ride in that hearse.
He did this week, after living 94 years.
The longtime mortuary owner was also a history buff and collected items throughout his life, including memorabilia related to the creamery building that his chapel was located in.
On April 15, 1975, Telegram-Tribune reporter Kay Ready wrote about a new museum.
New museum houses Reis memorabilia
The old creamery on Nipomo Street in San Luis Obispo is gone now, except for the building that houses Gene Reis’ funeral chapel — and an unbelievable collection of antiques, family heirlooms and whatever else you can think of.
Reis’ collection defies description. He has converted cheese making and aging rooms into showcases. Bits and pieces of the old creamery operation — presses and a huge cheese scale — still remain, alongside displays of old automobile ornaments and early century household equipment.
One entire wall is packed with photographs. “Here’s the old gent who started it all,” said Reis, pointing to a picture of his great grandfather, Frank De Rosa.
What De Rosa had begun, perhaps unknowingly, was a family tradition of collecting. A good portion of Reis’ artifacts have been handed down through generations of family history, right here in San Luis Obispo County. Others have to be obtained through donations and antique sales, Reis said.
There are cases of sterling silver shoe horns and button hooks, 6-inch hatpins, and a straight razor set with a blade for every day of the week.
Reis is delighted with one recent find — old papers addressed to his great-grandfather from the Carissa Cattle Co. finalizing the sale of some waterfront property in Morro Bay of $75.
Reis is planning the first official showing of his collection Saturday, April 19, when members of the San Luis Obispo County Historical Society pay him a visit. After that, he said, it will be open to the public.
Reis and Bruce Ioppini, Reis Chapel associate director, will have their hands full this week, getting everything ready for that showing, but they don’t really ever expect to stop working on the collection.
“With a ‘hobby’ like this, there’s always something to do,” Reis concluded.”