Stories

Terra Amico: A Friend to the Earth  

Written By Jordan Rosenfeld

Inside the wood shop of San Martin’s Terra Amico, four dogs emerge from their sleepy spots between wood piles and under tables laden with industrial saws and works in progress. Happy music accompanies the whine of saws, and employees stop what they’re doing to wave and smile as I’m given a tour by owners Joe and Lisa Ranieri of their furniture design and woodworking business, Terra Amico in San Martin. 

It doesn’t just feel like a family operation, it is one. The Ranieri’s are grooming their 24-year-old son Trevor, who helps out, to take over one day. Their thirty-odd contractors and employees are free to bring their dogs to work in the laidback environment.

Terra Amico is relatively new to San Martin, but it’s been around for seven-plus years, during which the business has undergone dramatic changes. 

“I started it in my backyard,” Joe explained. “I had some old wood I’d taken from a project at Silver Creek Country Club that I designed and built a table out of.” The table sat in the Ranieri’s yard for some years until Joe finally put it up on Craigslist. It sold that same day and spawned a series of similar requests he could barely keep up with fulfilling.

Before that, Joe, a LEED-certified green builder, had spent many successful years in real estate. After the fallout from the 2008 market crash and recession, in which they lost a lot of money, work opportunities were drying up. 

“I had a lot of wood and we decided to see what we could build out of it. We’d done a lot of flipping properties, but the furniture thing was a whole new game for us,” Joe said. 

The Rainieri’s believe in sustainability and keeping materials out of landfills. In fact the business name, Terra Amico, means “earth friend” in Italian—which is Joe’s heritage. 

“We’ve accumulated a lot of stuff that might look like garbage,” their son Trevor said during our small tour, “But one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

Back in the beginning, when they still worked out of their yard, code enforcement issues and complaints from their neighbor about the noise had them looking for a new location. In 2011, Joe moved his operation to an old redwood lumber yard in the Coyote area near Bailey and Monterey. He worked out of a 12 foot by 20 foot space for a couple of years until they were able to move into a vacant barn in the middle of a farm field, also in the Coyote area.

The space was perfect, but in 2013 tragedy struck: the barn burned to the ground, taking all their tools and supplies with it.

“We lost everything,” Joe said. 

However, after the San Jose Mercury News reported on it, they received an outpouring of support from the community. 

“We had people showing up with tools and wood, just helping us get back on our feet,” Joe recalled. 

They were deeply grateful, especially because the structure was uninsurable due to its age so they could not recoup their losses. 

“We managed to rebuild just from donations.”

Two more moves later and they settled in San Martin, not only in the shop—where they have 6,000 square feet of woodworking space and 1,500 square feet of metal shop—but the couple also bought a house on five acres on California Avenue. Their son is building another small home on the property.

“We love San Martin, and the large property sizes,” Joe said.

Despite earlier setbacks, business is booming. They regularly service such big tech companies as Google and Facebook, as well as a host of residential customers who come to them for the unique pieces that Joe is known for.

“We try to do things differently, one-of-a-kind, stuff that doesn’t look like everybody else’s work. There’s a huge artistic component to what we do,” Joe said.

As the child of an artist, Joe admits that the process is absolutely a creative act for him, and not just all a means to a paycheck.

Lisa pointed out that people have started coming to them for custom pieces inspired by furniture they’ve seen elsewhere that won’t quite fit in their homes. 

They get some unusual requests. “We had a client that didn’t like anything on the ground, so we designed every piece to mount on the walls,” Joe laughed.

They also do a lot of design work for people who have a general idea of what they want but need help fleshing out their ideas into real pieces.

And the newest piece of their business is a Willow Glen retail studio where they showcase smaller, more artistic pieces of Joe’s work in the Midtown Arts Mercantile—an idea they’d love to bring to Morgan Hill. 

“Anyone who is onsite there has to fabricate something,” Lisa said.

The studio allows them to create smaller projects, and to experiment with other materials such as concrete, zinc and reclaimed materials like used bike tires or fire hoses. 

They aren’t complaining about the thriving state of business now, but they do foresee a time when their son Trevor will take over a larger stake in the business. Since they have worked non-stop, seven days a week for the life of their business, they are looking forward to taking some time off. 

“One of our goals is to be not solely custom, but to use Joe’s artistry to build and create and sell what he makes,” Lisa said.

They feel embraced by the local community of San Martin and do everything they can to give that love, and their dollars, back to it.

“We think it’s really important, especially to the community in South County, to do business with other local small businesses,” Joe said. “We want to encourage the dollars be kept here rather than go to big box stores.”

Remembering Paul Kloecker

Written by Bev Stenehjem

On Friday, December 15, the city of Gilroy lost one of its most dedicated and best loved public servants, Paul Kloecker. Council Member Kloecker, 82, passed away just three days after attending a City Council meeting. Ailing and weak from lung disease which necessitated the carrying of an oxygen tank, Kloecker insisted that he be at the meeting. “As difficult as it was for Paul to be there, he wanted to make sure he distributed Christmas presents to his fellow council members,” noted Jane Howard, Executive Director of the Gilroy Welcome Center, who was also there at the meeting. “When I think of Paul, two words that describe him come to mind: honor and integrity—he was a man who stood by his principles.”

By all accounts, it is an understatement to say that Paul led a full life. His long list of personal accomplishments is only surpassed by the even longer list of his public service and volunteer activities. With a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering he was a registered professional engineer. 

Paul served 22 years in the Navy as an officer in the Civil Engineer Corps where in addition to a bronze star, he earned a master’s degree in Financial Management. As an engineer construction manager, he helped build runways and housing while stationed in Vietnam. 

After his naval career, Paul started a second career as a construction manager for Silicon Valley companies during the booming 1980s. He was a city councilman for the City of Gilroy—four terms over. An accomplished musician, he played the piano and while in high school, played the saxophone for a band called the Tune-Toppers. He enjoyed classic cars and once restored a 1967 Volkswagen van. An environmentalist at heart, Paul was instrumental in forming a committee back in 1991 that led to the current city-wide recycling program with Recology. 

Despite all of the above, Paul would often say that his greatest accomplishment was the love he shared with his family whom he leaves behind: Pat, his wife of ٤٣ years, and his two children, Joseph and Valerie.

With roots that ran deep in Gilroy’s community, Paul was an early volunteer for the Gilroy Garlic Festival as construction chairman. As was typical for Paul, he would go beyond the call of duty, often working into the wee hours of the morning to prepare for the festival. Pat remembers, “One night he and his crew were out on Santa Teresa Avenue, painting divider lines by flashlight on the road.” He volunteered for a total of 22 years with the festival.

A dedicated public servant, Paul served three terms as a council member in Gilroy in the 1980's and 1990's and won a fourth term in 2016. City council member, Dan Harney, had been surprised to learn that Paul was running again for a council seat—especially because he had already lost several previous bids and was now in his ٨٠s. Harney recalled, “Paul told me that politics was a lot like baseball—the more times you get up to bat, the better. You have to keep swinging and eventually, you’ll get on base.” 

Paul enjoyed his council work; making every effort to attend meetings despite his declining health. LeeAnn McPhillips, the director of human resources for the City of Gilroy shared, “Council Member Kloecker was a smart, giving, thoughtful, and astute council member.  We all got to know his wife, Patricia, as well and her kind spirit and love for Kloecker shined through as she assisted him in getting to and from the council meetings. She knew he loved serving the community so she did not mind attending the sometimes lengthy meetings with him.” 

Paul served twelve years on the Santa Clara County Transportation Commission and twelve years on the board of the Association of Bay Area Governments. He was also an active volunteer for the Elks Lodge, the Sunrise Rotary and the Gilroy Exchange Clubs. For ten years, he was a docent and an engineer for the train at Gilroy Gardens. For eight years he volunteered as a marshal for the AT&T Golf Tournament at Pebble Beach. A lover of music and theater, he was a board member of the South Valley Symphony Orchestra. 

Born on April 21. 1935 in Erie, Pennsylvania, he was the second youngest of five children born into a German-American family. Paul was an altar boy for Sunday mass and later attended Cathedral Preparatory School, a Jesuit high school. After high school he earned his engineering degree from the University of Detroit, a Catholic college. 

It was after he moved to California to attend the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey to work on his master’s degree that he met and married Pat, the love of his life. They married on August 10, 1974 at the Carmel Mission. 

Father Rubio, Parochial Vicar at St. Mary Parish, presided over Paul’s funeral mass, and remembers meeting Paul some thirty years ago. Rubio recounted that Paul attended daily mass and was a member of the Knights of Columbus. Paul volunteered for the church’s youth group, with Marriage Encounter and as a Eucharistic minister. It was Paul who helped bring about the forward-thinking concept of allowing girls to serve at the altar during mass. “When we first came to Gilroy, he wanted our daughter, Valerie to be an altar girl at St. Mary’s,” Pat said.

The community’s fondness of Paul was demonstrated by the many family members and friends, council members, police and fire departments that showed up to pay their respects. Four uniformed members of the Gilroy Police Department Honor Guard stoically escorted the pallbearers who carried the casket into the church. 

Mayor Roland Velasco, who served Gilroy alongside Paul for many years, said, “Paul was a dedicated public servant, wholly committed to the City of Gilroy and to his family. He was methodical and thoughtful in his approach to making policy decisions for the betterment of the city.” Mark Turner, CEO of the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce, added, “Paul was a servant of the people who had Gilroy’s best interests at heart; both the business community and the community at large.” 

It was a full life, indeed. Paul gave generously of his time —not only to his family, but to his community and to his country. And in return, he received the love and respect of all who knew him.

 

One Giving Tree, 

Written By Jordan Rosenfeld

In 2014 Michael Sanchez, founder of One Giving Tree, had an opportunity to put ten free Christmas trees to use when they couldn’t be used for a Gilroy Chamber of Commerce event. “I started thinking: what could I do with these ten trees? I immediately thought there are probably ten families with kids who can’t afford these trees,” he told gmhTODAY. His little idea snowballed from there, because he didn’t just want to donate empty Christmas trees, but trees fully trimmed with ornaments and stands.

To pull this off, he knew he’d need to raise some funds, so he called friends, and reached out to several community non-profit organizations to see if they could put him in touch with families in need. Community Solutions got back to him with the ability to put these trees into families’ homes. “Those ten trees morphed into thirty-five, then fifty-four that first year,” he said with a laugh. 

Emboldened by the effort’s success, he vowed to do it better and with greater organization the next year. In 2016 he brought on his wife, Debbi, to streamline the process. “She was the force behind it last year and together with the folks who were the muscle we delivered 112 trees,” he said. They worked with Community Solutions, Rebekah’s Children’s Center and a youth organization in Hollister to deliver the fully contained kits. This year, his goal is to deliver 150 trees, which come at a “great discount” from Jim Beck, owner of Patchen Christmas Tree Farm in the Santa Cruz mountains.

His initial doubts that this might not be a meaningful enough cause in the face of families who had greater needs such as food and clothing were quickly washed away as the caseworkers’ feedback rolled in. “We’ve heard stories where the caseworkers come back in tears, how an entire family is just blown away, because who would think of donating a tree?” 
he said. 

Growing emotional on the phone, he said, “We want a world where kids can enjoy the holidays, where moms and dads don’t have to worry so much and can get some relief and not have the stress [of the holidays],” he explained.

He holds the belief that something as simple as a bedecked Christmas tree, with its festive ambience, helps to provide a feeling of hope for children and families who may be suffering silently, especially at what is supposed to be such an uplifting time of year. “Ultimately what we’re trying to do is provide some normalcy and a little bit of hope,” 
he said. 

He believes that brightening a home at the holidays can have lasting change into the future. Citing research that has shown that children raised in poverty often have greater challenges in school and health he said, “It could change the memories, the feelings, and the psyche of that child into the future, and make a difference in how that person interacts 
in society.”

Children raised in poverty often have difficult memories, feelings of scarcity and stress that he believes they shouldn’t have to experience. “If you realized that you had the power to change a child’s tears and feelings of loneliness to laughter and feelings of joy, wouldn’t you want to at least try?” the website states.

The response from community members has “blown me away,” Sanchez said. Particularly in what he called “the climate today,” where people seem especially angry and frustrated.. One Giving Tree aims to do something “in a tangible way” to create a better world for others. “To know that there are people out there with no agenda who just want what’s best for others is just refreshing and uplifting.”

What started as an accident of good will is now on its way to becoming not only an annual fundraising effort, but hopefully a non-profit organization of their own. Right now they operate as a non-profit extension of the Gilroy Foundation but aim to scale up their operation to eventually partner with tree lots around town that would donate a tree for every tree purchased.

Though they fundraise throughout the year— buying ornaments at a discount for the following year at the day after Christmas sales—they also hold an annual fundraising event they call One Bright Night. This year it took place on Wednesday, November 8 at Old City Hall restaurant in Gilroy. Each entry donation pays for a complete tree kit.

“The bottom line is really simple: We’re trying to find a way to make the holidays a little brighter.”

For more information: http://www.onegivingtree.com

A Message from the Gilroy Foundation Executive Director, Donna Pray

The Derby attire was out in full force on October 7 for “Run for the Roses”!

An enormous “THANK YOU” goes out to our event co-chairs, Matt Titus and Rachel Traylor. They, along with their fabulous committee and the Foundation’s event coordinator, transformed Gilroy Gardens’ Event Pavilion into a classic Derby party, with mint juleps flowing along with our local award-winning wines. And, our guests certainly got into the spirit with Derby attire. Fabulous hats and bow ties seemed to be everywhere. Guest auctioneer, Jayson Stebbins, led lively and fun auctions and raffles!

We appreciate our Sponsors, our Donors, and our Bidders for making this year’s Day in the Country another success!

"Give Where You Live."