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From Geneva to Tranquility

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As an ongoing feature of the Helvetic. LA blog site I will be featuring stories of Swiss emigrants who came to California, their unique stories and how they have made a positive impact on their new home. I thought it fitting that I start with the story of my own Swiss grandfather.

Henri de Büren (1900-1986)

My grandfather, Henri de Büren was born in 1900 on the family ranch in Santa Victoria, Argentina. He was the first son of Philippe Frédéric de Büren (1865-1953) a Swiss emigrant to Argentina and Louisa Fabrini (1882-1974). He would spend his first 11 years in Argentina, before the family moved back to Geneva, ostensibly for the schooling of Henri and his siblings.

Henri was very handsome, athletic, and stubborn. In his youth, he loved spending time in the mountains, and I would told that he climbed the Matterhorn more than once. In his early 20s while still living with the family in Geneva, his father got him a job at a local factory. Henri would leave every morning with his lunchbox and overalls, and return in the evening, very tired. After a number of weeks, Henri’s father contacted the owned of the factory where he was supposedly working, and the owner said, “your son never showed up”. Being quite the playboy and bon vivant, Henri had thrown his lunchbox and overalls in the bushes a couple of blocks from the family home, and had been spending his days with his friends in town.

His father was none too pleased, and in effort to teach his son a lesson and at the same give him the practical skills to run a large farm. His father always assumed that he would return one day to Argentina and take over the ranch. Henri’s father sent him in 1923 to Tranquility, California, near Fresno to work on the farm of Lawrence Schorsch, a fellow Swiss. Why he was sent to this particular farm, is a mystery.

Henri worked for a while on the Schorsch farm and then moved to Fresno where he got a job with the power local utility, doing among other things killing rattlesnakes in advance of workers installing power lines. He would later move to San Francisco and marry Emilie Lasserre, a teacher of French Basque origin, who interestingly had taught Joe DiMaggio as a boy.

Henri and his brother Philippe in Geneva, 1954

At that point Henri had decided to make his life in San Francisco, and would return to Switzerland and Argentina later in life only on vacation. He would not take over the ranch as his father had intended. The job would fall to his youngest brother Carlos, whose children make up the current Argentine branch of the family.

While in San Francisco Henri did many different jobs. Among them was draftsman for the famous architect Julia Morgan, and working the night shift at a local brewery.

My most enduring memories of him were his great love of nature and his incredible culinary talents. He was able to prepare seven course French meals in a very small kitchen and when he was younger would give French country pâté “fait maison” as a Christmas gift. I used to call him “Grand”, short for the French grand-père, and he and my grandmother would often pick me up after elementary school and take me the Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park.

Henri died in 1986, followed only two weeks after by Emilie, his wife of some 50 years.

Henri was a study in contrasts. He was a very serious and reserved man, who could at times be incredibly gregarious. He valued his physical strength but at the same time was highly creative, and probably much more sensitive than he would ever acknowledge. And like many emigrants he walked a sometimes difficult line of being a patriotic American without forgetting his rich European heritage and Argentine roots.

To learn more about the de Büren family and Swiss roots that extend back to the 12th century please visit http://threebeehives.blogspot.com/

Written by jdeburen

July 24, 2010 at 8:12 am

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