John Biggi, scion of famed Beaverton family, dies
John Biggi, whose family has been entwined with the city of Beaverton since before there was a city of Beaverton, died Wednesday, Dec. 6, of complications following a heart attack, about three weeks shy of his 92nd birthday.
A funeral is set for 11 a.m., with Rosary at 10:30 a.m., Thursday, Jan. 25, at St. Cecilia Catholic Church, 12250 S.W. Fifth St., Beaverton. A reception will follow at the Stockpot Restaurant, 8200 S.W. Scholls Ferry Road, Beaverton.
The Biggi family — a street leading up to City Hall is named after the matriarch, Rose Biggi — farmed in this region in the 1800s, at a time when Beaverton was a mere coal-stop for the Portland-to-Forest Grove train. The family grew onions on land that now is Southwest Hall Boulevard, between Canyon Road and Cedar Hills Boulevard.
Rose Biggi picked wild horseradish in her garden and sold it at farmers markets in Portland, which eventually led to Beaverton Foods.
"I was very sorry to learn of the passing of John Biggi," said Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle. "I enjoyed getting to know John over the years. He had a great sense of humor and I will miss him. The Biggi family has left an indelible mark on Beaverton. John's beloved mother, Rose, set the tone for the family's legacy, which is synonymous with Beaverton itself. Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire Biggi family,"
John Biggi's sons, Steve, Mike and Vince Biggi, met with The Times this week to talk about the impact their father had on the city, the local Catholic community, and civic organizations such as Beaverton Jaycees and the Beaverton Area Chamber of Commerce.
"In a lot of ways, the history of our family is the history of Beaverton," Vince Biggi said.
John Steve Biggi was born in 1925 to parents Louis and Rose Biggi. He attended St. Cecelia Grade School and Benson High School. During World War II, at age 17, he enlisted in the Navy and served in the South Pacific and The Philippines.
His sons said he returned to Beaverton after the war to help his mom in the horseradish business.
"He was a mechanic, an engineer, a builder," Steve Biggi said of his father, who was self-taught in these fields. "He was a welder and a machinist. You name it. He could do anything."
"From ideas in his head and pure ingenuity he built the horseradish plant and turned it into an operating factory," Vince Biggi added.
As the city grew around the Biggi farm, the family turned to retail property development and restaurants. Large sections of central Beaverton were developed by John Biggi and his family, his sons said.
Biggi also fought with the city, and with the federal Environmental Protection Agency, over the years. Beaver Creek, which meanders under Hall and Cedar Hills Boulevard, as well as Lombard Street, was seen by some government agencies as a natural wetland. John Biggi saw it as the canal he helped dig out to create the original irrigation system for the family farm.
"He was a real scrappy fighter," Steve Biggi said. "Especially when it came to property rights."
Over the years, John Biggi supported St. Cecilia and Holy Trinity parishes, was president of the Beaverton Jaycees, and was a member of the Beaverton Elks, Rotary, Italian Businessmen's Golf Club and Beaverton Businessmen's Club, according to his sons.
He married Sharron Christenson in 1981. She survives him and lives both in Beaverton and at their home in Palm Desert, Calif.
He also is survived by his three sons; daughter Gina Biggi Goeser; stepchildren Brian Christenson and Tammy Vaughn; grandchildren Nicole, Jason, Brooke, Ian, Anna, Jake, Alexandra, Nicholas, Matthew and Jade; eight great grandchildren; and cousins still in Genoa, Italy.
His devout Catholicism led to two anecdotes from his sons.
First, when he was a youth, John Biggi got in trouble with teachers at St. Cecelia Grade School and was sent to see the parish priest. While waiting, he noticed that a repairman had started — but gave up — attempting to fix the church pipe organ. John Biggi tore the pipe organ apart himself and began repairing it, without ever asking permission.
"He could fix anything," Mike Biggi said. "Even as a kid. He was like that."
"He put it back together and it worked beautifully for years to come, He was only 11 years old," Vince Biggi added.
This December, following a heart attack and as his health began to decline rapidly, John Biggi met with a priest for last rites. According to the brothers, he told the priest, "I've had a good life. I just want to go."
The priest pointed out that decision was between himself and God.
John turned to the priest and asked, "Well, can you give him a little push for me?"
He died in his sleep the next morning, surrounded by loved ones.