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Diane Phillips: Jane of all trades

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Diane Phillips: Jane of all trades

The front view of the two-story contemporary house that Diane Phillips built in the middle of the family orchard, with the front landscaping dominated by statuaries.

ROSE ALBANO RISSO/The Bulletin/


POSTED March 23, 2014 10:04 p.m.

She’s a farmer. She’s a businesswoman. She is a postal worker; and to the best of her knowledge, she was Manteca’s first letter carrier. She is an artist, a landscaper and designer. She is also an architect and a homebuilder, and although she does not have the official papers to declare her as one, she has the house that she built as proof.

That’s Diane Phillips all rolled into one.

Some would call her a renaissance woman given her foray into the above accomplishments and talents. Others will, perhaps, say she is a Jane of all trades and that would fit her to a T as well.

But there’s more to know about Phillips, the oldest and the only girl of Richard and Ernestine Phillips’ three children. A member of the 1971 graduating class of East Union High School, she is proud to proclaim she and her classmates were the Lancers’ “first four-year” graduates. That distinction came with other happy memories that are hard to dispatch into oblivion. She was a head cheerleader, and glimpses of her teen-age energy and enthusiasm are still evident in her effervescent personality today. During her senior year, she was president of the Girl Athletics Association.

She still has the well-preserved hand-written copy of the original East Union Fight Song that she and her schoolmates composed, complete with everyone’s signature. The final lines read: “We’re loyal to you EU/We’re trust, tried and true/We’ll cheer to Red & Blue/You know how we care for you/We’re loyal to you EU.” Below the lyrics are the signatures of the composers: Lynn Miller, Mara Galeazzi, Diane Phillips, Kurt Gikas, Violet Tabagon, and Maureen Agostini. Signing as witnesses were Holly Hopkins, Donna Frey and Vivian Kalebjian. That official signing is dated Sept. 30, 1970 at 11:13 a.m. in the new high school’s Snack Bar.

The school still sings that Fight Song today albeit some of the lyrics have been changed through the years.

 

Cutting her teeth as

 a businesswoman

Everything Phillips learned as an almond farmer she learned from her parents who are longtime Mantecans and farmers. She grew up among the almond orchards, smelling the sweet fragrance of the delicate snow-white blossoms in spring and, once she was old enough, driving the pick-up machine at harvest time in the fall, her entire body powdered by thick layers of dust. It’s a job she embraced with total enthusiasm.

By the time she was 21 years old, she already purchased her own 10-acre almond field. When she turned 25, she sold that acreage and bought a 20-acre orchard. While farming her own acreage, she and her two brothers continued to help their parents — they still do — in the family farming operation which consists of several hundred acres of almonds, running and operating the family’s P&P Farms, an almond-hulling venture with another Manteca farmer (the initials stand for Phillips and Putz), and doing farm services for other area farmers. Brothers are Mike, who works at Sandia Lab in Livermore, and Ricky, the youngest, who farms full-time and is a reserve firefighter with the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District. During almond harvest in the fall, the three siblings take their annual vacation to help in the orchards.

Being an almond farmer was, and still is, a lifelong undertaking for Phillips. It’s a job that she has deftly and creatively interwove into the many other job and business pursuits that she plunged herself into by the time she turned 18. While attending Delta College in Stockton, she was one of the fortunate ones to snag a job at the newly opened JC Penney in Weberstown Mall.

“It was my first job, actually. I was 18,” Phillips recalled. Then she got a job as snack-bar manager at the drive-in movie theater at West Lane and Hammer Lane in Stockton. That experience had a lifelong influence on Diane’s diverse professional pursuits later in life.

“That’s how I learned how to make hot dogs,” she said of her snack-bar job experience.

Armed with that confidence, and because “I already had a little bit of experience” in that regard, she took the bold step in 1979 of purchasing an established hot-dog stand — actually a restaurant — in the historic Lincoln Shopping Center in Stockton along with her longtime friend Diane McConnell. For a few years, they used the original name of the business. When the former owner of the hot dog stand took the name away — the two friends unfortunately did not include the name of the business as part of the purchase transaction, and actually never thought it would come to that — they christened their restaurant as DaD’s Hot Dogs — that is, Diane and Diane’s Hot Dogs. They celebrated DaD’s 35 years in business last week.

DaD’s Hot Dogs,

Bill Cosby and

Kevin Dobson

 DaD’s claim to fame is tied to famous comedian Bill Cosby. Several years ago, when the award-winning entertainer came to perform at the Bob Hope Theatre (the historic Fox Theater) in Stockton, he asked for hot dogs. Someone recommended DaD’s Hot Dogs to “his people” who then phoned to place their order.

When Phillips picked up the phone and heard the caller drop the entertainer’s name, “I thought it was a joke,” she laughed at the memory. Cosby would not come to the restaurant himself, she was told, “but he was tired from the plane ride.” And when the caller asked if Phillips would deliver their order of six hot dogs with chili, “I said no,” she said, adding jokingly, “Why don’t you send him over? They said, ‘oh, okay. We’ll call you back.’” And even when they told the still amusedly skeptical Phillips that they were going to come and pick up their order when they did call back, “we had it all made, just in case,” she recalled.

As it turned out, the comedian did mention DaD’s Hot Dogs during his stand-up show at the Bob Hope Theatre which the Stockton Record mentioned in an article the following day.

“I still have that (article) on the wall in my place,” Phillips said with a big smile.

Another Hollywood personality who makes an appearance at DaD’s every couple of months or so with his family is the actor Kevin Dobson. “His son works in Stockton so he comes in to the hot dog place every few months. I have a picture him at the restaurant. He’s a very good-looking guy,” Phillips said.

 First woman letter

carrier in Manteca

Phillips went to work for the U.S. Post Office in the late 1970s. Her childhood friend, Diane McConnell, was also a postal worker. It was during that time that they decided to become partners in the hot dog business. But they did not give up their postal jobs. McConnell’s sister became their business manager, a position she still holds today.

Phillips started working for the post office when she was 21 years old. She considered herself lucky to get the job.

“At that time, it was really hard to get in the post office. It was a very, very good job if you could get in.” There were just a few women postal workers at that time, unlike today, she said.

“There was only a handful of us women, not even 10 of us in Stockton. Now, there’s lots of women - probably there are more women than men.”

She had thought about becoming a teacher, she said, “but when I got hired at the post office, I made more money than I would have teaching. In fact, there were a lot who quit teaching to work for the post office.”

She started working at the West Lane Post Office. She was trained in the post office’s first LSM (letter-sorting machine). That has since become obsolete.

“They don’t have that anymore. At that time, that was something new,” she said.

After working in Stockton for five years as a postal clerk, she was transferred to Manteca where she worked both as a clerk and mail carrier. As far as she was aware of, she was the first female mail carrier in Manteca. At that time, there were only 13 full mail routes and two auxiliary routes in the city. That was in the 1970s. Manteca did not have a postmaster at that time. Later on, Bruce Marx and later Paul Wilson came on board.

Sometime during the years Phillips was working for the post office and running her hot dog business, she and her mom Ernestine also became partners in another hot dog stand in the building complex where Baskin Robbins Ice Cream is located in the Cardoza Shopping Center on North Main Street and Louise Avenue. They sold the business several years later.

About 12 years ago, Phillips decided to build her own house, a two-story contemporary residence surrounded by almond orchards in the family’s compound. She was hands-on throughout the construction process. She designed it, starting with a rough sketch — even marking the location of some of the main features of the house such as the kitchen counter with a stick on the ground — which she later took to a professional architect for the finished drawing. She got plenty of help from her father, her mother, her two brothers, and some help from contractors. She and her mother painted all the inside and outside walls by themselves. Her brothers helped with the electrical wiring and plumbing.

Everything else outside — the hardscape, the tropical landscaping dominated by different varieties of palm trees interspersed with a generous number of near life-sized statuaries (one of them was purchased when the old Nakata Nursery on North Main went out of business after a decades-long presence in Manteca) - is the handiwork of Phillips. She also designed the bivalve massive security gate at the entrance to her house leading to the circular driveway, which is highlighted by a giant stained-glass orange sun with the silhouettes of palm trees superimposed for a dramatic effect.

It was her father who inspired her to build her own house.

“My dad built his house, and I learned from him how to get different bids from (contractors) like the sheetrock,” said Phillips who was also the Portuguese festa queen during her junior year in high school, a memorable occasion thanks to a broken leg resulting from an accident on a trampoline which made her perhaps the one and only queen ever to march with a cast.

She actually built the house of her dreams “from a four-foot piece of plywood, then drew the plans and took them to an engineer.” One of the unique features of the house is a hanging “bridge” above the kitchen counter leading to the master bedroom upstairs. From the bridge, one has an almost unobstructed view of the almond orchards to the south, plus a view of the kitchen on one side and the recreation/family room dominated by a giant stone fireplace in front of which is a billiard pool and a bar on the opposite side.

For all her accomplishments in life thus far, Phillips said, “I would not have anything without God, my great family, and my wonderful friends. I am truly blessed.”

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