Frank F. Cirill was known as the “father of the parkway,” a River Park resident, avid runner, cyclist and kayaker who devoted his life to preserving Sacramento’s American River Parkway against development threats.
Cirill, a board member of the Save the American River Association since 1968 and a retired engineer who helped oversee the $68 million restoration of the state Capitol from 1975 to 1981, died Saturday of natural causes. He was 94.
“He ran on the parkway 20 miles a week until he was 86, and then he continued walking,” his daughter, Lisa Cirill, said Monday. “He exercised until the day he died.”
Cirill, SARA’s president from 1978 through 1994 and later president emeritus, was a driving force against some of the greatest development threats to the parkway, which stretches 29 miles from Folsom Dam to the confluence of the Sacramento and American rivers and is considered the region’s crown jewel of outdoor space.
He led fights to stop construction of a large parking lot at Cal Expo that threatened nearby Bushy Lake, to ensure public access to the Fair Oaks Bluffs overlooking the American River and to stop commercialization of the Lake Natoma shoreline.
“He did tireless work on behalf of the parkway, and he showed great ability to recruit community leaders to assist in his advocacy,” SARA President Stephen Green said. “He used to tell his children, ‘There are two types of people in the world: people who make things happen and people who wait for things to happen. Don’t ever wait.’ ”
Cirill spent decades on the organizing committee for Eppie’s Great Race, the triathlon founded by Eppaminondas “Eppie” Johnson that takes place annually along the parkway. He designed the original race course and was the first Iron Man in the 60-plus division, his daughter said.
Cirill was born Nov. 8, 1922, in Buffalo, N.Y., to Italian immigrants whose last name was Cirillo.
He later shortened that to Cirill and moved with his family to San Diego at 15. Cirill graduated six months early from San Diego High School in 1942 to join the service during World War II and served in the Merchant Marine until 1949.
During the war, he encountered “everything from collisions to groundings to fires on board,” he told The Sacramento Bee in 1993.
“We were in the Atlantic and the Pacific, transporting war materiel to the battle zones, to the various islands of the South Pacific and areas of North Africa,” he recalled. “During the war, I made two round trips of the world. After the war ended, I was involved in the Marshall Plan. We were providing foodstuffs and rebuilding material to Europe up till ’49.”
Cirill left the Merchant Marine as chief mate and decided to move to Sacramento after passing through the area earlier and noting that two rivers ran through the city.
“That’s the reason he migrated from San Diego to Sacramento,” Lisa Cirill said. “He was always drawn to the sea, so he had to move inland or he would always be at sea.”
Cirill embarked on a career as an engineer and construction estimator from 1950 until 1987, including the six years he spent on the Capitol restoration project as chief estimator with Continental Heller Construction.
“By far the most interesting project I’ve ever been involved in,” Cirill told The Bee in 1993. “We were dealing with a building from the 1860s, so we had to do a lot of investigative work to even decide how to go about the restoration. The original plans had been destroyed in San Francisco in the 1906 earthquake.”
An avid outdoorsman, fly fisherman, backpacker and Nordic skier, Cirill became heavily involved in the outdoor pursuits Sacramento affords. He began running races in his 40s, took up bicycling and kayaking and began his passion for protecting the parkway in the 1960s.
“My dad’s main goal was to preserve the parkway for future generations,” Lisa Cirill said. “That’s what drove him, to maintain this jewel from any commercial destruction.
“People take advantage of that parkway. They don’t understand the work that went into it to make it a world-renowned public entity.”
In addition to his daughter, Cirill is survived by his wife of 56 years, Doris; his son Curtis Cirillo, who uses the original family name; son-in-law Kevin Shirley; daughter-in-law Soussan Cirillo; and three grandchildren, Rose, Wolfgang and Levon.
The family plans to cremate Cirill’s remains and scatter them at sea from the Liberty Ship SS Jeremiah O’Brien, but will wait to schedule a memorial service until better weather allows for an outdoor celebration of his life.
In the meantime, the family suggests any donations go to SARA. Details on giving are available at www.sarariverwatch.org/ways_to_give.