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Building friendships for 100 years
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San Joaquin Lumber Co. executive Jeffrey French lauds his Manteca managers past and present and the family of Tony Martin who led the Manteca facility since 1956. - photo by GLENN KAHL
It was a love affair of more than 50 years between retired longtime San Joaquin Lumber Co. manager Tony Martin and his faithful customers who crowded into the Manteca Museum Thursday night to help celebrate the firm’s 100-year anniversary.

The Manteca Historical Society hosted the event turning the microphone over to lumber company executive Jeff French who introduced Tony and his family along with the current lumber yard Manager Dale Roman – a 22 year veteran at the Manteca yard.

French lauded Tony and his wife Dorothy – the firm’s bookkeeper of 21 years – saying they have become known as “Mr. and Mrs. San Joaquin Lumber.”
“Tony, to my knowledge, is the longest tenured of any employee in the history of the company over 40 – 41 years.  He was hired in 1955 on April 1 – April Fools’ Day – and 55 years later he is still talking about that.  I don’t know who the joke was on us or him,” he said.   French added that several employees have been with the company 30 years with others averaging 15 years each.

“Dorothy, from what I was told – when Tony was appointed manager – she was asked to come in for a  temporary position to straighten out the books and to get them in order,  and 21 years later she finally got it done,” French chuckled.  “So we want to thank Dorothy for keeping Tony in line and (for them) running the company the way they did.”

Lumber cheaper
today than in 1975
French noted that lumber is two cents a foot cheaper now at 20-cents compared to what  it was in 1975 – 30 years ago.  However one member of the audience pointed out that he must not be speaking of red, wood which is more expensive even if you can get it today at a lumber yard.  He added that years ago he built a house in Manteca using 1X12 redwood lumber for the outside wall facing and it is still standing.

In chatting across the room with his guests, Tony got a little nostalgic saying it is still gratifying to meet many of his customers around town in the grocery stores, hardware stores  and restaurants.

“Even until today Atherton-Kirk will see us eating in Chili’s or Applebee’s and one of them will walk by and pick up my tab – thanking me for what we did for them and saying how much they appreciated us for trusting them,” he said.

Martin said he was born and raised here in Manteca up by Northgate Drive where the family dairy was located – marked today by two large palm trees.

“At that time all I knew was how to milk cows – 150 to 200 cows a day,” he quipped.
He said he was small for his age at 19, and it was difficult for him to lift the heavy milk cans already developing a double hernia in the process.  Martin had to have surgery and was off the dairy for about two months when he heard about the lumber yard position.

While recovering he worked for a cousin Ed Cardoza in his TV sales and repair business.  He remembers having an in with then manager of San Joaquin Lumber Ted Kresswell who knew the work ethic of the family and was appreciative for a lumber sale he made to Tony’s father in the building of a large feed silo.  That was one of his biggest sales ever, he had told young Martin.

What happened to Tony?”

Tony said that after applying for the job at the lumber yard it was hard to go back home and tell his dad he might be leaving the dairy.  In a Portuguese background, it didn’t go over very well, he laughed.

He remembered when he and Dorothy retired – he in 1995 and she a year later – the company gave them a week to 10-day trip to Hawaii.  “They were always super good to me,” he said.

Before they left for their flight, his supervisor from Stockton came down and said they had to talk.  Tony said he feared they were going to take back the tickets for Hawaii.  But, no, his boss  took an envelope out of his pocket and put five, crisp $100 bills down on the desk – one at a time – saying we gave you the tickets,  but we didn’t give you any spending money.

The biggest change for Tony in greeting old friends in the community is having the 50-year-olds say, “Hi Mr. Martin.”  What happened to “Tony,” he questions.  But, it was those 50-year-olds who came into the lumber yard with their dads as children – the dads now in in their 70s and 80s.  As children the greeting was always a respectful, “Mr. Martin.”