LATHROP — Bennie Gatto loves Lathrop.
It’s evident in all of the work he puts back into the community – volunteering for everything from the senior brown bag program to the salmon giveaway that gave low income families and struggling seniors a chance to put a healthy meal on their table.
And in 2011 he was recognized not only by the Lathrop City Council but also the Manteca City Council, the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors and a host of regional legislators – State Senator Lois Wolk and Assemblymembers Allyson Huber, Bill Berryhill and Cathleen Galgiani.
Praised for a “lifetime of service” to the community, Lathrop City Councilwoman Martha Salcedo presented Gatto with a framed picture of the original governing body – of which he was a member – posting the first sign marking Lathrop’s city limits on Lathrop Road.
“This is a guy who doesn’t ever complain and is such a valuable asset to our community,” Lathrop Mayor Joseph “Chaka” Santos said the night the awards were presented. “I think, sir, that if your Mom and Dad were alive today they’d be very proud of you.”
Gatto spent more than four decades as a member of the “chain gang” for the East Union High School football team (he transferred over to Lathrop High when the school opened) and a had a stint on the Lathrop City Council from 1989 to 1996 (serving as mayor from 1990-91 and 1995-96). He also served on the planning commission from 1997 through 2010 and was recently reappointed.
The recognition, however, didn’t stop with just proclamations and framed pictures.
When it came time to name the Lathrop High School football stadium, the Manteca Unified School District Board of Trustees decided to honor Gatto by naming the field after him – forever linking him to the community and the school that he championed for more than a decade.
“I’ve enjoyed my time here and I feel like I’m part of this city and I want to watch it grow,” Gatto said when addressing those who presented him with awards. “I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing until the Lord calls me and they put me 6 feet under.”
Santos was unhappy with the selection of the stadium name which was awarded to former Lathrop resident and football great Paul Wiggin – a Stanford and Cleveland Browns standout that went on to become the head coach of The Cardinals as well as the Kansas City Chiefs. He is now a personnel consultant with the Minnesota Vikings.
Wanting it to be Bennie Gatto Field at Spartan Stadium, Santos said he’d check with members of the Lathrop High student body that were pushing for the Spartan Stadium name to see if they want to pursue the matter further.