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Real concern for youth & a smile: Joe was all that & more

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POSTED September 2, 2014 12:34 a.m.

Long before there was Joe Albertson, Winco Foods, Webvan, and high tech entrepreneurs gearing up to unleash a squadron of drones to deliver Ding Dongs and Red Bull to millennials too self-absorbed to go to the store there was Joe’s Food Center.

It was out on the edge of Manteca on East Yosemite Avenue just a stone’s throw or two from Austin Road and Calla High.

The owner running it was Joe Freitas. He was your typical independent grocer of the 1950s and early 1960s. That meant 14-hour days, seven days a week.

Given the work involved, they weren’t simpler times. What they were, though, was more people-orientated times.

Joe, like his peers running grocery stores post World War II from coast to coast, was genuinely concerned about his customers. He knew them by name. He cared about their families. His smile and happy disposition weren’t a corporate issued edict for customer service. It was what came naturally for the son of Joseph and Mary Freitas, a hardworking farm couple who instilled a strong sense of work ethic and caring in their son they raised during the depths of the Great Depression.

Joe loved the grocery business. But he was also pragmatic. He saw the writing on the wall when he got wind that Alpha Beta was heading to Manteca. So instead of expanding into a larger store, he sold.

Eventually he joined with two other community minded souls — Ted Polous and Andrew Rossi — to launch Delta National Bank. They were the grocer, the pharmacist, and the farmer. They created the antidote that Manteca needed for bigger chain banks that were moving away from community banking. Delta Bank flourished because Joe and his partners applied the same principles they embraced in their business and personal lives into serving the community’s financial needs.

This column, though, isn’t about a successful businessman. Nor is it about a proud father who doted on his only child Linda.

It is about a man who literally devoted much of his life to improving the lot of kids.

You can see much of his handiwork still today: The Manteca-Lathrop Boys & Girls Club, Lincoln Park, and Shasta Park. What you can’t physically see is the impact he made via various volunteer positions on countless youth who have since grown up. It ranged from helping the most troubled youth by serving on the California Youth Authority board to various state and national boards he was appointed to by governors and presidents.

Joe didn’t serve and do what he did for brownie points. It was out of a genuine concern for youth.

“Kids are our future,” Joe said when asked a few years ago why he continued to help the Boys & Girl Club after 30 plus years. “If we invest time and money in them we are making sure we all have a good future.”

And when it came to investing time and money Joe was as caring and successful at community service as he was at business.

Joe was among the community minded people that stepped forward not to just start the Boys & Girls Club but to build it and open it debt free. He then devoted time for the rest of his life drumming up financial support for the club that over the years has played a role in providing a safe haven for as many as 15,000 kids from all walks of life,

For years he served on the board. And for even longer he helped with the telethon often raising $8,000 or so in donations on his own and then manning the auction boards.

His community service went beyond youth. For 54 years he was a member of the Manteca Lions community service club.

And through it all Joe kept smiling.

It was his smile you’d see first and remember most.

It was both genuine and contagious.

There was nothing fake about it or Joe’s sincerity.

His passing last week at age 88 did not create a big void in the community. Joe made sure that didn’t happen. Not only is his daughter Linda as community minded but his tireless efforts for youth has helped produce generations of adults who care about Manteca and take it upon themselves to help others, often without even being asked.

Long before the term “paying it forward” was coined men like Joe were doing just that.

No one had to launch a public advertising campaign to convince them to help. Nor did they have to have their pockets full of money. Even in trying personal times Joe never forgot the community he was part of or the fact youth was the best investment of money and time as the dividends reward the community 100-fold and more.

Services for Joe are Wednesday, Sept. 3, at noon at St. Anthony’s.

If you go — or just take a minute or so to reflect on his life — remember to smile.

That’s what Joe always did.

It’s as much of his legacy as helping kids, serving the community, running successful businesses, and his family. 

 And take comfort knowing Joe is probably pestering St. Peter as you read this to convince the powers in heaven to do even more for youth.

 

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209.249.3519.

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