The People who make the Garlic Festival a Success !
As I look back at the 33 years of
the Gilroy Garlic Festival , one of the things that I am proud of is that I was 1 th
/ 7 of the vote that hired Rudy Melone as President of Gavilan Community College in the early 70 ’ s .
What I ’ m not proud of is that I was one of those who said to Rudy that having a Garlic Festival in Gilroy was a dumb idea . But Rudy was an Italian that came from the tough Italian neighborhoods of New York City and when Rudy , the visionary , Don Christopher , the businessman / garlic farmer and Val Filice , the garlic farmer and a great cook joined together in that vision , it was unstoppable .
A year before the first festival was inaugurated , a group of food writers came together for a lunch at Christopher Ranch . Betsy Bossley of the LA Times encouraged the three pioneers to go forward . They did , but Don , Rudy and Val would be the first to say that what made these last 33 years a success were the people of Gilroy .
There were skeptics that when asked to take on responsibility , said “ No .” Others were smart — like Bert Mantelli who at that time was President of the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce , who agreed that the Chamber would take responsibility for the beer concession . That move provided an ongoing cash flow , to this day , for the Chamber and has allowed the Chamber to be a strong pro-business organization in Gilroy .
In the early days , people like Jim Oteri , then of Nob Hill Stores , created the “ pet garlic ” fashioned after the pet rock . That may have been the forerunner of the Garlic Bobble Head which some would like to see return . Attorneys Bill Gates ( not the Microsoft Bill Gates ) and Brian
Cunningham were instrumental in drawing up the incorporation papers after the successful first year . They , along with Bert Mantelli , Hy Miller and Rudy , strategized for hours in my restaurant lounge at Digger Dan ’ s . The $ 7000 in seed money for the first year came from Don Christopher , Nob Hill Stores , Gilroy Foods ( now called Olam Corporation ) and Dr . Jim Cecilian . Don Christopher mentioned this project to Dr . Jim while he was having a dental check-up and received that commitment . Jim Oteri says that he remembers committing dollars and trucks for the first festival before he asked Michael Bonfante , owner of Nob Hill Foods . That was when Michael asked his sister , Linda Trelut , to become involved , according to Jim .
In the first year , the three pioneers thought it would be a great idea to have a breakfast on the first day of the festival . What they forgot was that after breakfast , those who attended the breakfast stayed on and didn ’ t have to pay to get in .
Linda Trelut , founding Secretary to the festival , remembered that the money for the beer concessions was kept in cigar boxes and that the tokens were sticky and smelled of beer . CPA Joe Filice , “ called numbers Joe ” was the first treasurer . Garlic farmer , Bonnie Gillio , has fond memories of conducting two workshops a day of garlic braiding to 200-300 people for 25 years . Her son , Jim , now interim Captain Jim Gillio for the Gilroy Police Department , started working at the festival at age 4 , along with brothers Matt and Tim Gillio . Bonnie said from her ranch in Madera that “ she had no idea that the Garlic Festival would grow to what it is today .”
Eleanor Villarreal recalls her days with Hope Services when the kids would pick the prize vegetables from the Goldsmith experimental farm . Those vegetables ended up in the first vegetable stir-fry headed by Linda Hussar . Later Gene
Sakahara and I created the Garlic Ginger Chicken Stir-Fry .