A couple of tables just won’t be enough.
Joe Gambini will be honored with the Oakdale Chamber of Commerce Lifetime Achievement Award on Friday night, Jan. 17 and the 86-year-old said he couldn’t be more surprised or grateful for the recognition.
“I’ve got two tables and that’s not enough,” Gambini said of having to reserve a few more at the Chamber’s annual awards dinner, with plenty of family anticipated to attend the program.
“It’s a surprise,” he added of being this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award recipient. “It feels real good, I feel real honored for the board, the Chamber, to have chosen to honor me.”
The 74th annual Awards Dinner presented by the Oakdale Chamber of Commerce is scheduled for Friday, Jan. 17 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Gene Bianchi Community Center, 110 S. Second Ave., Oakdale.
Along with the Lifetime Achievement Award, nominees in the various categories have been announced. Citizen of the Year nominees are Colleen O’Connell, Gina McCarty, Antoinette Rodin and Deborah Tussing. Small Business of the Year nominations went to Curves/Jenny Craig, Infinite Athletics Cheer and Tumbling. The Large Business of the Year nominations went to Astoria Senior Living, Fit Republic Oakdale, Modern Urgent Care and Raley’s. Nominated in the Community Service Award category are Lions Club of Oakdale and Oakdale Shelter Pet Alliance. In the running for the Junior Achievement Award are Kendra Branch, Paige Morgan and Taytn Silva. Those selected in each of the categories will be announced Friday night at the dinner.
For the Lifetime Achievement honoree, having celebrated 100 years of Gambini Farms in 2018, Gambini hasn’t slowed down too much since then, starting on the second century of the family business along River Road just north of Oakdale.
He said that when Chamber CEO Mary Guardiola called to let him know about the ‘Lifetime’ award, it provided an opportunity for him to go “back in time” and think about all that has occurred in his lifetime.
“When I was born in 1933, the price of gas was only 10 cents a gallon and the stock market was only at 84 then,” Gambini reminisced. “I remember what Oakdale was like, I’m proud, and I always have been proud of Oakdale; I like the people I’ve met and the businesses I’ve been associated with.”
Gambini got involved with agriculture in high school and also was a standout athlete, the leading scorer for his varsity basketball team at Oakdale High, averaging 18 points per game his senior year.
“I scored 276 points my senior year,” Gambini said. “I also did track; I was second in long jump in the state in 1951.”
He served on the student council, was chapter president for FFA in 1952, then went on to college at Fresno State, where he continued to play basketball and be involved in all things agriculture. That set the stage for him to eventually take over the family business.
Originally, he said, his father had a dairy, then they moved into row crops and then planted trees, now with walnuts as the primary crop.
Through the years, including his service with the U.S. Army, Gambini has held family and integrity in the highest regard, known as an honest businessman and a boss who treats employees like family.
At the 100th anniversary celebration of the Gambini Farms in June of 2018, he welcomed a huge crowd of friends, family and well-wishers.
“I was born here, on this ranch, and I’m still here,” he said at the time.
His sister Hazel was born a year after Joe and the business has stayed in the family, with Joe’s son Rod and daughters Toni and Tori all involved, as well as many of their children. Joe lost his first wife, Lila, to cancer in 1985. Now, he works alongside his best friend and partner of many years, Lois Armstrong. The business also has two corporations, Gambini Farms and Gambini Nut Co.
At one time serving as president of the California Young Farmers organization, Gambini will be heading back east later this year, with Lois by his side, to be recognized for 55 years of membership in the organization. He also has helped support multiple local sports teams, Oakdale High School ag programs and more over the years.
And whether it is tending to spinach or beans, pruning trees or just getting out on his tractor, Gambini loves the variety that working the land provides.
“I think I was taught at a young age, by my parents, that if you want anything, you have to work at it and hard work doesn’t hurt,” Gambini said. “What I like about farming is you plant it, the seed germinates, it grows, it’s a great outdoor life and it is not the same thing every day.”
Looking forward to turning 87 in July, Gambini is humbled by the Chamber honor.
“I’ve been blessed,” he said, “with my health, family, friends and in business.”