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Joe Freitas helped youth, founded bank

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POSTED August 29, 2014 1:47 a.m.

Joe Freitas — part of the World War II generation of leaders who returned home from war to lay the ground work for Manteca’s future— passed away Thursday. He was 88.

Freitas’ long list of community contributions include being a founder of Delta National Bank to launching and supporting the Manteca Lathrop Boys & Girls Club to being a 54-year member of the Manteca Lions service club. But what he took pride in most was his daughter Linda Abeldt who followed her father’s footsteps in business and community service.

He also was known for his friendly personality and ever present smile plus his willingness to help in community endeavors of all types but especially those benefiting youth.

In an interview in 1994, Freitas credited his dad Joe Sr. with helping guide him through life.

“It’s important that your parents are there for you,” Freitas told the Bulletin. “My dad is 94 and he’s still there for me.”

The demands of running a family fruit stand and farm while the nation was still in the throes of the Great Depression meant Freitas had to work after attending classes at Manteca High.

Freitas also went to work for Leo Bernacchi at Leo’s Grocery while he was still a sophomore in high school. Since Freitas was familiar with fruit, Bernacchi started him in the produce section at what was once Manteca’s premier grocery store on the northeast corner of Yosemite Avenue and Main Street.

Freitas joined the Navy after graduating from Manteca High in 1941. After he finished his tour of duty in Hawaii, Freitas went back to work at Leo’s.

One day Bernacchi promoted Freitas to head cashier and told him if the manager ever left the job was his.

“I got to thinking if I was going to manage a store, it ought to be for myself,” Freitas said in an interview. “I figured if I didn’t make it and it went belly-up, I was still young enough that I could actually pay off any debts. In those days, no one thought about declaring bankruptcy. It wasn’t the honorable thing to do.”

Freitas’ started Joe’s Food Center at the present-day Manteca Liquors and Delta Bait just west of Austin Road on East Yosemite Avenue.

He worked 14-hour says, seven days a week for 23 years. He had blueprints drawn up for an even bigger store when he got wind Alpha Beta was going to open a market in Manteca.

Freitas said there was no way he was going up against a big chain as he saw the writing on the wall. So he sold the store and retired in 1960.

Freitas quickly became bored and was looking for a business venture.

Even so, he was skeptical when the late Andrew Rossi flagged him down on Yosemite Avenue some 50 years ago to ask him to join him for a cup of coffee at Brawley’s located in the building that now houses the Super Buffet.

Rossi wanted to know what Freitas thought about starting a bank. Freitas thought Rossi had gone off the deep end.

Several weeks later, Rossi saw Freitas driving on Yosemite again and got him to stop for another cup of coffee. The second time around, Freitas was convinced.

The two dropped by Manteca Drug Store and got Ted Poulos to join the effort.

Today Delta National Bank has a number of branches including in Riverbank, Manteca, and Stockton.

“There were lots of people who told us we’d close within six months,” Freitas once recalled. “Many of them have ended up being good customers of ours. . .  Life is a gamble, let’s face it. You learn from your own mistakes. You could tell me a bank isn’t going to make it but I have to see for myself. And believe me; I’ve made my share of mistakes and bad investments.”

There’s one investment that Freitas said never soured on him and that was devoting time to efforts to help youth.

The former national director of the Jaycees served on the California Youth Authority board, two terms on former Edmund G. Brown’s youth advisory committee, and on President Eisenhower’s youth advisory board.

He was also a former president of the Manteca Chamber of Commerce.

Freitas made it a point to continue to raise money for the Boys & Girls Club through its annual telethon often bringing it 10 percent or more of the annual donations.

He noted he never let business demands sidetrack his efforts to raise money so the Boys & Girls Club could help kids.

“Kids are our future,” Freitas said when he was asked about why he continued to help the Boys & Girls Club. “If we invest time and money in them we are making sure we all have a good future.”

Freitas was inducted into the Manteca Hall of Fame in 1996 for community service. He said he was more proud of the fact that his daughter Linda earned the same honor for community service years later.


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